A more than year-long investigation targeting alleged gang members in North County San Diego culminated in the arrest of dozens of drug and firearms dealers, officials said Wednesday.
More than 100 members with the North County Regional Gang Task Force and an FBI SWAT team descended on locations in Oceanside, Vista and San Marcos early Wednesday to make 18 arrests in an investigation into criminal activity that began in fall 2016, according to a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday. Nine others were already in custody.
In the indictment, prosecutors allege that many of the criminal operations would start in Mexico and end across the street from North County schools.
In total, 37 alleged gang members were charged in the investigation, many of which have ties to the Mexican Mafia, according to U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman.
Authorities were still searching for 10 defendants named in the indictment.
The investigation was launched after two gang-related homicides in North County, the DOJ said. Law enforcement used wiretaps, undercover drug and gun buys and extensive surveillance to conduct the investigation.
During the raids, authorities seized heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl and firearms, including a semi-automatic pistol, revolvers, and a two AR-15 style assault rifles, according to officials.
Prosecutors said the guns and drugs were being stored and sold in North County neighborhoods, including near Libby Lake Park, and across the street from several schools, including Jefferson Middle School, Clair W. Burgener Academy, Mission Elementary School, San Marcos High School, and Joli Ann Leichtag Elementary School.
"We have a special resolve to go after gangs that have the audacity to operate on the boundaries of our schools, where children play and learn," Braverman said.
According to the indictment, one defendant distributed drugs nearly every day over a three-month period, making drop-offs in the parking lots of Wal-Mart, Mission Donuts and a local methadone clinic in Oceanside, among others.
Another defendant was arrested at the Pala Indian Casino with a loaded assault rifle on the passenger’s seat of his car.
That same defendant would travel to Mexico about every five days to transport small amounts of drugs across the border, typically in body cavities, the indictment said.
The alleged drug smugglers would use the pedestrian lanes at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa border crossings to carry drugs into the United States, prosecutors said.
The defendants face varying amount of prison times ranging from four years to life in prison depending on the charges they face.