When Salvador Castro Jr. and Raymond Lopez were sent to Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, they continued to be large-scale drug dealers.
But thanks to the work of local, state and federal law enforcement officers, the Nuestra Familia prison gang’s dirty dealings have been disrupted.
“When we work together in this way, we are more effective in achieving our shared goal of ensuring public safety. We are committed to combatting and reducing violent crime and drug trafficking, both inside and outside of prison walls.” — U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott
Authorities announced Wednesday the arrests of Castro, 49, and Lopez, 31, and 19 of their associates on federal and state drug-trafficking charges.
If convicted, they face a range of maximum sentences, including up to life in prison. Several of the defendants also face a range of mandatory minimum sentences ranging between five and 10 years.
“When we work together in this way, we are more effective in achieving our shared goal of ensuring public safety,” said U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott. “We are committed to combatting and reducing violent crime and drug trafficking, both inside and outside of prison walls.”
Wiretaps, Surveillance Helped Build Case
According to court documents, Castro and Lopez used contraband cell phones from inside the prison to arrange the transport of methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana from drug suppliers in California and Mexico to a stash house in Kings County.
From that stash house, gang members outside of the prison coordinated the preparation and delivery of the drugs to distributors throughout Kings and Tulare counties. The complaint charges several other gang associates, including Angel Montes, Rafael Lopez, Daniel Juarez, Manuel Barrera, Manuel Garcia, Joann Bernal, Ramon Amador, and Raul Lopez, Jr. with federal drug-distribution crimes.
Court documents also reveal that agents used court-authorized wiretaps to monitor phone calls and text messages, and surveilled suspects in gathering evidence.
A Closer Look at Nuestra Familia
Nuestra Familia translates to “our family” in English. The gang began in Folsom State Prison in 1968, with its members primarily inmates (“Nortenos) brutalized by Mexican Mafia gang inmates (“Surenos”).
Authorities describe the Nuestra Familia as well-organized with a formal leadership structure and a constitution. It levies “taxes” on drug deals conducted by street-level Nortenos.
Court documents in this case state that there are approximately 2,500 Norteno street gang members and associates in Kings County.
The Team Behind the Takedown
This case was the product of an investigation by the Kings County Gang Task Force; Agents of the Special Operations Unit – a team of agents from the California Department of Justice and the California Highway Patrol; California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; the FBI, Kings County District Attorney’s Office, and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office.
The Drug Enforcement Administration, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Marshals Service, and Homeland Security Investigations assisted with the takedown.
Assistant U.S. attorneys Kimberly Sanchez, Laurel Montoya, and Justin Gilio are prosecuting the case.