Suspected gang leaders arrested in Central Valley sweep

Police have arrested 75 alleged gang leaders in a one-day sweep in the Central Valley for offenses including attempted murder and drug trafficking, Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris said Wednesday.

The raids, which involved helicopters and canine units, occurred at 50 locations Tuesday in the cities of Madera, Los Banos, Livingston, Merced, Atwater and Dos Palos under “Operation Red Zone,” Harris said.

It was aimed at “ruthless” and “lethal” gang leaders associated with Nuestra Familia, which was started in Folsom Prison in 1968 and continues to be run out of the state prison system, Harris said. Nuestra Familia, one of seven prison gangs, controls most of the Nortenos street gangs in Central California and has ties to Mexican drug cartels, according to law enforcement.

Growing gang violence in the Central Valley has threatened small farm communities and launched efforts to keep young people from being recruited.


“Their conduct was terrorizing this community, " Harris said at a news conference with other law enforcement officials in Los Banos, “and by extension, their conduct was bleeding through the whole state of California.”

Agents from 16 local, state and federal agencies seized more than a dozen firearms, including five assault rifles, methamphetamine, marijuana plants, crack cocaine and more than $64,000 in cash, law enforcement said.

Representatives of law enforcement conceded that the arrests may provoke rival gangs to expand and noted that such sweeps in the past have driven the violence from one community to another.

The operation began in August 2010 when state law enforcement officials discovered that members of the Nuestra Familia gang, largely driven out of Salinas in earlier sweeps, had set up shop in Madera, Merced and other Central Valley cities.

Four of 10 homicides in California are gang-related, Harris said. These cases also account for 80% of the state’s effort to relocate witnesses whose lives are in danger because of their cooperation with law enforcement, she said.

The sweeps this week brought the total number of arrests in the operation to 101 and stemmed from surveillance by the attorney general’s Fresno Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, which tracked the daily movements of suspected gang leaders, Harris said. Among those arrested were two suspected senior Nuestra Familia regiment commanders, Harris said.

State officials estimate that Nuestra Familia, or Our Family, has 100 members in the state prison system who communicate with street gangs through coded letters and packages. The gang’s rival in prison is the Mexican Mafia, La Eme.