The U.S. government will hand over to Orange County on Monday the deed to Rancho del Rio, a 213-acre ranch with vineyards, a wine press, views of Santa Catalina Island and eight houses made of hand-laid stone, imported logs and tile.
The ranch, a bucolic sprawl of chaparral and green grass nestled in a remote canyon near the juncture of San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties, was seized by federal authorities during a drug investigation almost three years ago. It was offered to Orange County because of the Sheriff's Department's central role in cracking the case.
Authorities said the ranch was the headquarters for a massive drug-smuggling operation that moved thousands of pounds of marijuana and hundreds of pounds of cocaine each month.
Rifles, Machine Guns Found
Orange County deputies and federal drug agents raided the ranch March 1, 1985, and found rifles, machine guns, bulletproof vests, a money counter, a counterfeit-bill detector and an anti-bugging device, along with marijuana-packaging materials and cocaine-processing chemicals.
Now the houses, the stables, the kennels and the barns stand empty, watched over by a silent windmill. A dozen cars and trucks rust along the dry riverbed that runs through the ranch.
The owner of the ranch, Daniel J. Fowlie, 52, was out of the country at the time of the raid. Today, he sits in a Mexican jail, held in connection with the torture-slaying of U.S. drug agent Enrique Camarena near Guadalajara in 1985.
U.S. prosecutors are seeking to have Fowlie returned to the United States to face murder charges.
Viewed as Training Center
The property is being given to the county under a 1984 federal law that allows local police agencies to confiscate and use property and cash seized from suspected drug traffickers to pay for their drug units.
The Sheriff's Department has proposed that the county use the property for a training center for special weapons and tactics teams. Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Richard J. Olson said the proposal is under study by the county Board of Supervisors and that a decision is not expected for six months.
Supervisor Thomas F. Riley will receive the deed from U.S. Atty. Robert Bonner in a ceremony at the Sheriff's Department. U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson is expected to attend.