Thirty-two people are under arrest after a federal grand jury returned an eight-count indictment charging them with conspiracy to grow marijuana as part of an East Bay drug ring, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced late Wednesday.
More than two dozen were scheduled to be arraigned today in Sacramento Federal Court, although six of those indicted had yet to be arrested as of this afternoon. If convicted, the defendants could face the statutory penalty of 10 years to life in prison.
After opening an investigation into the marijuana-growing operation early last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration arrested 26 people associated with it May 16 and 17 and sought six others. Law enforcement agents seized more than $1 million worth of marijuana -- including thousands of marijuana plants from at least 14 indoor grow operations and dozens of pounds of processed cannabis -- as well as dozens of firearms and at least $400,000, officials said earlier this month.
Those implicated in what DEA agents are calling "Operation Disco Dazed" range in ages from 20 to 57, and reside in Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno and Stanislaus counties. Agents did not offer an explanation for the moniker.
Investigators focused on Grower's Choice Hydroponics, an equipment retailer operating in Tracy and Hayward and owned by Steven Ortega Sr., 50, and Marla Ortega, 57, both of Byron.
Ortega and his 25-year-old son, Steven Ortega Jr. of Discovery Bay, allegedly directed a drug trafficking organization that used the stores to provide growing equipment to partners in exchange for a cut of profits from the marijuana sold, an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint says.
"The use of legitimate businesses to facilitate marijuana cultivation and launder the proceeds of trafficking is a classic feature of such organizations," Wagner said in a prepared statement released Wednesday.
Also charged in the indictment were Richard Serrell, 44, of Antioch; Marcus Williams, 28, of Hayward; Kevin Kuester, 43, of Fremont; Steven Adgate, 30, of Rio Vista; Jake Westerman, 22, of Livermore; Nickolas Perry, 23, Joey Figlia, 23, and Kevin Kirkpatrick, 27, of Discovery Bay; Reginald Bell, 38, of Union City; Dusty Burge, 39, Matt Ortega, 21, Jay Dupee, 50, and Bryan Swiers, 31, all of Byron; Anthony Giarrusso, 24, Brock Enrico, 25, and Kyle Schmidt, 25, all of Oakley; Todd Becerra, 38, and Joseph Mirante, 40, of Tracy; Charles Erickson, 36, and Travis Olibas, 23, of Fresno; Richard Reynolds, 34, of Modesto; Justin McMillian, 32, of Salida; Shawn Thompson, 43, of Mountain House; Frederick Laurens, 29, and Michael Kelley, 20, of Brentwood; and Derek Winters, 30, Robert Kennedy, 25, Nicholas Ojeda, 32, and Jason Siegfried, 28, of Patterson.
Bench warrants have been issued for Burge, Erickson, Figlia, Kennedy, Ojeda and Perry, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
-- Bay City News Service