Pixel Tracker

Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 2:40 am | Fair 45º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Detectives Make 17 Arrests in Narcotics Investigation

The search continues for four more suspects and a possible homicide victim

The Narcotics Bureau of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department has concluded a six-month investigation of a missing person that tied into a marijuana cultivation operation in the pristine hills of Santa Barbara County inside Los Padres National Forest.

During the case, narcotics detectives identified an outdoor marijuana garden being maintained in the rural foothills off of West Camino Cielo Road. In addition, detectives identified several Mexican national suspects maintaining and operating the marijuana grow. As the investigation continued, detectives identified two residences in the East Los Angeles/Glendale area associated with the suspects.

On Sept. 11, while detectives were conducting surveillance on the marijuana garden, two associated vehicles were seen leaving the garden. Detectives followed the vehicles into Ventura County, where they coordinated traffic stops on the vehicles with the assistance of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.

During the traffic stops, five Mexican national suspects were taken into custody and found to be in possession of about 41 pounds of processed marijuana and a loaded semi-automatic handgun. They were all arrested on charges of conspiracy, cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale. In addition, one of the suspects was charged with carrying a firearm in the commission of a felony.

On Sept. 12, members of the Santa Barbara Narcotics Bureau and the Glendale Police Department Narcotic Enforcement Team served two search warrants in the East Los Angeles area. While conducting surveillance on the residences beforehand, Glendale detectives attempted to stop a vehicle seen leaving the residence. During the traffic stop, a 15-year-old male, who was driving the vehicle, began ramming the police cars. The juvenile was quickly taken into custody for assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer.

After taking him into custody, detectives served the search warrants on the residences that were next door to each other. They arrested an adult female running out the back of one of the residences carrying a kilo of cocaine. Detectives arrested another adult male trying to flush a large amount of marijuana down the toilet in the second residence. In total, detectives arrested three adults and on juvenile. During the search of the residences, detectives seized about 71 pounds of processed marijuana, a kilo of cocaine and four semi-automatic handguns.

During the investigation, detectives have learned that the missing person, identified as Jesus Omar Villa of Fresno, was helping maintain the marijuana grow when he died. Although details surrounding his death are unclear, detectives believe it may have been a homicide. Detectives also learned that Villa’s body was buried in an unknown location in the mountains above Santa Barbara.

On Sept. 14, members of the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department’s Narcotic Bureau and volunteer search and rescue team entered and eradicated the marijuana garden off West Camino Cielo. A large majority of the estimated 5,000-plant marijuana operation already had been harvested; however, detectives destroyed more than 200 growing marijuana plants.

Several pesticides and herbicides, a large amount of trash and camping gear were recovered from the grow site. The search and rescue team conducted a thorough search of the area utilizing specially trained cadaver dogs but were unable to locate Villa’s body. In addition, detectives gained information that the suspected growers were collaborating to ignite a brush fire in the area to burn any remaining evidence associated with the marijuana grow and the location of Villa’s body.

The case reached near conclusion Oct. 8, with the service of five search warrants in four counties outside of Santa Barbara County, including San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Los Angeles and Tulare counties.

On that day, authorities made seven arrests, seized about 205 pounds of marijuana worth $615,000, a half-ounce of cocaine and two loaded semi-automatic handguns. Assisting in the search warrants were the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department, Fresno County Sheriff’s Department, Orange Cove Police Department, Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, Drug Enforcement Administration and Glendale Police Department. All of the suspects were booked into the jail in the counties in which they were arrested, pending prosecution.

In total, 15 adults and two juveniles associated with the drug trafficking organization have been taken into custody for a variety of charges. About 350 pounds of marijuana have been seized with a street value of $1 million and more than a kilo of cocaine with a street value of about $105,000. In addition, 11 guns were seized as well as $39,000 in cash. Four suspects are still outstanding, and all have $250,000 warrants for their arrest.

The suspects in custody are Uriel Torres, 32, of Orange Cove; Moises Torres, 30, of Modesto; Arturo Zamora, 23, of Glendale; Marcos Rosales, 36, of Los Angeles; Salvador Cardenas, 33, of Glendale; Reynaldo Olivera, 27, of Glendale; Joba Ortega, 39, of Los Angeles; Bernardo Olvera, 43, of Glendale; Rigoberto Cruz, 39, of Glendale; Rene Vargas, 39, of Cutler; Jose Valdovinos, 45, of Cutler; Saul Cortez, 25, of Cutler; Augustin Cornejo, 21, of Cutler; Alejandro Vargas, 24, of Cutler; and Eloy Chavez, 33, of Orange Cove.

The investigation is ongoing; however, detectives are getting limited cooperation from the suspects they have in custody and Villa’s body may never be found. Detectives are confident that, if Villa’s body is located and it is determined that his death is the result of a homicide, they have their suspect in custody.

— Drew Sugars is a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokesman.

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >
 

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.