Federal and local authorities have seized more than $51 million worth of Colombian marijuana and arrested seven suspects, including two Ventura County men, after they transferred 3 1/2 tons of the drug from a sailboat to a Santa Barbara County beach, authorities said Tuesday.
It was the largest amount of marijuana seized from a ship in Southern California in more than a decade, said Special Agent Ralph Lochridge of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Bruce H. Throckmorton, 41, whom federal agents believe to be the ringleader, was arrested after he used a short-wave radio early Sunday morning to direct the unloading from a hill overlooking the 52-foot sailboat north of Refugio State Beach, authorities said.
The marijuana seizure, at 7,242 pounds the largest in Santa Barbara County history, came after the smugglers had loaded 129 bales into inflatable boats and hauled them ashore with a rope to be transferred to rented trucks, authorities said.
But after launching flares to light the beach, about 50 officers emerged and took the men into custody, Lochridge said.
The suspects included Throckmorton, a Ventura-area resident, and Ronald V. Solakian, 46, of Camarillo.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Patrick McLaughlin said both were being held without bail.
In addition to the DEA and the Coast Guard, the operation involved Santa Barbara sheriff's deputies and U.S. Customs agents.
McLaughlin said the seven were charged with possession with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. He said this carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Also charged, McLaughlin said, were Michael W. Budma, 48, of Leucadia; Javier R. Ortiz-Casierra, 26, of Colombia; Kirt D. Lucio, 32, of Santa Barbara; Mark A. Calicchio, 37, of Costa Mesa, and Adam J. Winchester, 28, of Australia.
All were arraigned Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Lucio was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail, McLaughlin said. The others were being held without bail.