Photos courtesy of ICE.
Four men were charged with drug trafficking Wednesday after local and federal authorities discovered one ton of marijuana Tuesday on a 30-foot fishing boat in Long Beach, officials announced.
The seizure is the third major local maritime smuggling incident in the last month, bringing the total amount of marijuana seized to more than three tons.
A one-count criminal complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California named Omar Quintero, 28, of Los Angeles; Miguel Angel Quintero Jr., 38, also of Los Angeles; Eliasib Ventura, 34, of Alhambra; and Jonathan Ventura, 31, of Pomona. The four men made initial appearances late Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alka Sagar, who ordered the detention of three of them and ordered the release of Omar Quintero on a $50,000 bond, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). They are scheduled to be arraigned next month.
The defendants were arrested Tuesday after Long Beach Police Department’s (LBPD) Port Police Division officers alerted investigators with the Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Task force (LA BEST) that they had seen a truck that was the subject of an LA BEST lookout, according to officials.
“The truck was hooked to a fishing boat on a trailer at the South Shores launch ramp in Long Beach,” officials said. “LA BEST investigators, including special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), responded to the launch ramp area, searched the vessel and found bundles of marijuana inside, according to court documents.”
The defendants each face a statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison if they are convicted of conspiracy with the intent to distribute marijuana.
“As drug traffickers continue to use our waters for smuggling, law enforcement will continue to interdict them,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said in a statement. “These arrests and seizures demonstrate the commitment and cooperation across all levels of law enforcement to stemming the flow of [drugs] into the United States, by whatever means.”
The arrests and seizure on Tuesday came one day after HSI special agents recovered 44 bundles of marijuana weighing about 3,000 pounds on Santa Rosa Island in Channel Island National Park, officials stated. Investigators with LA BEST believe the marijuana may be related to an abandoned Mexican panga that Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputies discovered on Gaviota Beach in Santa Barbara Sunday afternoon.
On September 23, Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD) lifeguards on marine patrol spotted observed suspicious activity aboard a 20-foot pleasure craft when they made contact with the vessel in distress.
“The vessel was towed to the launch ramp at Davies Landing, where it was met by officers from the Long Beach Police Department,” officials stated. “An inspection of the boat turned up numerous packages of marijuana weighing more than 1,100 pounds.”
HSI and LA BEST personnel arrested Mexican nationals Fernando Rodriguez-Fonseca, 39, and Enrique Mendoza-Rodriguez, 47, at the scene for trafficking marijuana. Evidence indicated both men sailed from the area of Ensenada, Mexico to Long Beach.
Rodriguez-Fonseca and Mendoza-Rodriguez were charged with conspiracy and possession with the intent to distribute marijuana as part of an indictment returned by a federal grand jury on October 11, according to officials. They were arraigned on the indictment on Monday, when they pleaded not guilty and were ordered to stand trial on December 6 in U.S. District Court, officials stated. They each face a statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison if they are convicted of the two charges.
“This sudden surge in local maritime smuggling activity is definitely a cause for concern,” Joseph Macias, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles, said in a statement. “By using pleasure craft to ferry contraband, smugglers believe they can more easily blend in with legitimate boating traffic along the Southern California coast, which is all the more reason we need the public to remain vigilant and contact law enforcement if they see anything suspicious.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen E. Escalante, who is with the general crimes section, is prosecuting the case against the four defendants charged this week. The pair of defendants in the September seizure is being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Shults, also with the general crimes section.
Officials said LA BEST received substantial assistance with these cases from the LBPD, LBFD, SBSO, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD).
LA BEST—tasked with reducing security vulnerabilities affecting the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport complex, Southern California coastline as well as waterways and transportation infrastructure connected to them—is made up of personnel from nine federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including HSI, CBP, USCG, DEA, LASD, LAPD, the Los Angeles Port Police, LBPD, and OCSD.