The FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, San Bernardino Police Department and numerous other local law enforcement agencies teamed up in a countywide operation to arrest and/or indict 35 members of the San Bernardino-based Westside Verdugo gang for drug and violent crimes Thursday, April 25, morning.
Operation Westside Guillotine was led by the FBI, involved more than 250 law enforcement officers and represented about 18 months of collaborative investigation and legal preparation, according to U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna, who announced the arrests during a press conference held at the San Bernardino Police Department headquarters later that morning.
The arrests were made following the opening of eight federal grand jury indictments charging 35 alleged members and associates of the gang to several conspiracies to distribute methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana into the county jail system and throughout San Bernardino county.
“For more than 50 years this gang has been responsible for spreading drugs, violence and addiction in the Inland Empire, but today we have taken a major step to combat the group’s influence on the city of San Bernardino,” Hanna said.
Twenty-four teams of officers made 24 simultaneous arrests throughout the county and an additional 10 suspects were already in custody. One fugitive, Angel Ray Martinez, 27, of Fontana, remains at large.
The sheriff’s department made up four of the teams, according to Undersheriff Shannon Dicus.
The investigation began in July 2017 with intelligence revealing a conspiracy to smuggle drugs into the San Bernardino County jail system but soon expanded in scope with the revelation that the gang was responsible for drug trafficking, extortion and violence throughout Southern California, according to FBI Assistant Director in Charge Paul Delacourt.
The three main indictments involved the drug conspiracies while five additional indictments charged individual suspects with “felony in possession of firearms of ammunition.”
Delacourt described the defendants as “foot soldiers of the Mexican mafia” when describing the team’s aim to bring the leaders of street gangs to justice.
The indictments charged Carlos Antonito Aznaran, 24, of Rialto and his wife, Elisa Montes, 28, of Palm Desert as central figures of the gang.
During the operation, 30 pounds of methamphetamine, 21 pounds of heroin and 23 firearms were confiscated, Delacourt said.
Approximately 121.53 grams of meth, 61.82 grams of heroin, 20 packets of Suboxone and 10 syringes were found in the body cavities of two suspects who allegedly intentionally got themselves arrested for narcotics trafficking, the indictments state.
The charge for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances carries mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison.