Meth bust in Merced County, 11 suspects arrested

August 15, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Authorities revealed the results of a five month long investigation dubbed "Operation Crystal Clear."

The operation led to the seizure of hundreds of pounds of meth, and the arrests of eleven suspects.

Those 11 suspects are being held in the Merced County jail on a variety of charges. Authorities say getting them and the drugs off the streets will cut down on gang violence, and other serious crimes in the Valley.

The tightly packed methamphetamine represents the largest meth seizure ever by Central Valley law enforcement.

Special Agent Dean Johnston said, "I think most of us when we walked in were pretty shocked that we would be able to get this much product staged in one spot."

Agents found most of the meth at a home in Southern California. But the investigation all started with one pound of the drug in Merced County.

"In April of 2012, task force agents working in an undercover capacity purchased 1 pound of ice from Javier Caballero of Newark, California," Special Agent Ben Buford said. "Cabellero had several family members living in Merced County and was also owner of the La Hacienda Market in Livingston."

Agents with the Merced Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force say they soon realized the meth was tied to a Mexico-based drug cartel called "Millenium." They called in help from the Department of Justice and launched a large-scale investigation called "Operation Crystal Clear." Last week authorities served search warrants at sites across the state, seizing vehicles, cash, and more than 330 pounds of meth.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse said, "Agents estimate the street value of the methamphetamine you see before you today to be over $9 million."

Agents also arrested 11 people accused of helping to make, move, and sell the meth. Authorities say getting the suspects and drugs off the streets will reduce gang violence in the Valley because the cartel uses local gang members to distribute the meth. And they say it will help prevent other serious crimes.

"If you abuse this drug, you will steal, you will murder. We've had unfortunately in Fresno we've had some sad cases where mothers go on binges and then end up killing their children," Special Agent Buford said. "So yes you see the gamut from shoplifters, all the way to violent homicide."

Authorities say 95 percent of the meth in California is being brought across the border from Mexico. But they're still seeing dangerous conversion labs in the Valley where powder meth is turned into ice crystals. That's why local agencies say they need to continue working with state and federal departments on major crackdowns, like this one.


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