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2 Defendants in MS-13-Related Case Have Arraignment Delayed to Nov. 17

Two men indicted last year in a case with ties to the MS-13 street gang appeared in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on Friday.

The pair, Rafael Lainez Castro and Jose Mejia Orellana, are the remaining defendants from the second and smaller case stemming from the law enforcement operation dubbed Operation Matador.

The two man who face assorted conspiracy counts have not entered pleas yet to charges handed down by the Santa Barbara County Criminal Grand Jury in July 2016.

On Friday, Judge John McGregor continued their arraignment hearing until Nov. 17.

The grand jury indicted the pair plus 12 defendants in a separate case, with those in the larger case facing 50 charges related to the deaths of 10 people and allegations of conspiracy to murder 14 other victims. 

The multiple-defendant case stems from Operation Matador, led by the Santa Maria police and involving multiple law enforcement agencies when undertaken March 3, 2016, with arrests in Santa Maria, Oxnard, Kern County and Ohio.

Months later, after hearing weeks of evidence, a criminal grand jury handed down indictments against the men alleged to have ties to the violent criminal gang dubbed MS-13, and also known as Mara Salvatrucha. 

Before Friday’s hearing, the judge met with attorneys from both sides in chambers and noted in open court that settlement talks were ongoing.

Castro’s attorney, Gary Dunlap, said he and prosecuting attorneys had “something of a meeting of the minds” regarding the felony charge of conspiracy to commit a crime but remain divided on another count, criminal street gang conspiracy.

At the last hearing, Dunlap had asked that the judge direct the Probation Department to prepare a pre-plea report spelling out the recommended sentence.

“I think that we have the right to question and to correct the probation record upon which their conclusions are reached,” Dunlap said.

“And at a sentencing hearing you would certainly have that ability,” McGregor said. 

Nov. 17 also is when the 12 defendants are scheduled to return to court for their continued arraignment hearing.

Dunlap also told the judge he intends to file a motion asking that his client be referred to as Rafael Castro. 

The defense attorney said he did not want this client “tainted” with the name shared by several other defendants in the larger case. 

“It’s not representative to who he is and more confusing as to his identity than just referring to him as Mr. Castro,” Dunlap said.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen, who is leading the prosecution team that includes Deputy District Attorney Tiffany Dix, did not object, but said the issue would be dealt with before trial. 

Orellana, who is represented by defense attorney Harold Mesick, has been charged with five counts of conspiracy to commit a crime and criminal street gang conspiracy. 

The defendant also faces an enhancement for a gang shooting from a vehicle leading to great bodily injury or death.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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