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Local News

Man Sought in Santa Maria MS-13 Murder Case Now in Santa Barbara County Custody

A man sought in connection with cases stemming from multiple homicides and other crimes allegedly linked to the violent international MS-13 gang in Santa Maria is now in custody in Santa Barbara County Jail.

Jose Wilfredo Abarca Soriano, reportedly between 19 and 24 years old, was arrested in Virginia last year, and made his first Santa Barbara County Superior Court appearance in Santa Maria earlier this month.

He has been charged with four counts of conspiracy to commit murder and one count of a criminal street gang conspiracy, according to court documents.

The defendant was taken into custody in October 2017 in Virginia after a warrant was issued for his arrest, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen said Friday.

Two years ago, the Santa Barbara Criminal Grand Jury handed down indictments in two cases after hearing several weeks of testimony in secret.

Most of the defendants were arrested in March 2016 in a multi-agency operation dubbed Operation Matador and led by the Santa Maria police after a spike in homicides in the city.

In the larger case from the grand jury indictments, 12 men face 50 felony charges in connection with 10 murders between January 2013 and March 2016. Other charges are related to crimes involving 14 victims who survived.

The small case has five additional defendants who were indicted on lesser crimes.

Since the indictments, only two defendants have appeared in court for hearings in the smaller case due to the others being outstanding or taking a plea deal. 

The arrest and extradition of Soriano means just one man indicted in the cases remains on the loose.

After his arrest by the Fairfax County Police Department Oct. 25, the defendant declined on Oct. 31 to waive his extradition to California, later challenging whether the name and fingerprint matches were sufficient to confirm his identify, according to Virginia court documents.

However, a Fairfax Court ruling said the defendant told California detectives he used the alias “Slayer,” as his rap music name “and that same name is listed as an alias on the indictment from California," according to an opinion by Fairfax District Court Judge David Bernhard.

Details about the new defendant’s involvement in the alleged crimes remains unknown since grand jury transcripts and most related court filings have been sealed with a limited gag order affecting what attorneys can say about the case. 

Soriano made his first Santa Maria court appearances in June and received a court-appointed attorney, Patty Dark. 

The two cases are expected to return July 20 when all the other defendants will appear for hearings before Judge John McGregor.

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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