Police arrest 75 gang members in 'Red Zone' swarm

Operation was the culmination of a 2-year effort targeting 'transnational gangs'

By Scott Johnson
Contra Costa Times

LOS BANOS, Calif. — State and federal agents swarmed across several small communities in and around the San Joaquin Valley town of Los Banos early Tuesday morning and arrested 75 alleged members of the Nuestra Familia prison gang and the Norteno street gang.

The raid, code-named "Red Zone," also netted weapons, including five assault rifles, $64,000 in cash and unnamed quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. The operation was the culmination of a two-year effort targeting "transnational gangs" that operate across the U.S.-Mexico border, dealing in drugs, weapons and human trafficking.

"This was an example of the work of confronting this dangerous gang activity," said state Attorney General Kamala P. Harris, who traveled to Los Banos the day after the raid to congratulate local law enforcement, and bring attention to the issue. Harris has increased law enforcement efforts against transnational gangs in recent months, partly in response to the out-of-control drug war raging between cartels and the Mexican Army.

The "Red Zone" operation was initiated in August 2010 when officials from the California Department of Justice realized that a previous operation targeting Nuestra Familia in Salinas had only driven them to other areas. As law enforcement efforts have increased, gangs have sought refuge in more rural, farming areas like the San Joaquin Valley.

Officers from 31 different agencies, both federal and state, participated in the raid, which targeted middle and senior level members of the prison gang. Charges included attempted murder, drug trafficking and conspiracy to distribute narcotics. Eight of the 75 face federal charges. The remainder will be handled in Merced County.

Harris said the raid and the resulting arrests were significant for all Californians because of the reach and increasing sophistication of the Nuestra Familia gang.
Oakland is just one bastion for Nortenos, the street gang most affiliated with Nuestra Familia. Oakland police believe there are approximately 400 Nortenos in the city. Debate about gang activity has raged in recent months in response to an effort to impose a gang injunction on 40 alleged Nortenos in Oakland's Fruitvale District.

Harris said the raids would continue.

"All gangs fit into the big picture," Harris said. "They should be warned."

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