REGION — Federal indictments unsealed in San Diego on Feb. 28 charged 37 alleged gang members with heroin, methamphetamine and firearms trafficking, in many cases within feet of North County schools.
The crackdown was the latest in a series of efforts by the Department of Justice to turn the tide of the opioid epidemic and reduce the inevitable violent crime that accompanies widespread drug trafficking, according to prosecutors.
Early Feb. 28, more than 100 members of the North County Regional Gang Task Force, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies made numerous arrests and searched various North County locations.
As of midday, 27 of the 37 defendants were in federal or state custody, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego. A total of 21 were arrested this week, including 18 on Feb. 28, and the rest were already in custody. Ten defendants remained at large.
During the operation, authorities seized heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl and firearms, including a semi-automatic pistol, revolvers, and a two AR-15 style assault rifles.
The yearlong investigation involved federal wiretaps, dozens of undercover drug and gun buys, and extensive surveillance, officials said.
A number of the defendants allegedly are documented members or associates of violent North County street gangs operating out of Encinitas, San Marcos, Oceanside, Vista, Carlsbad, Escondido and elsewhere.
Many of the involved criminal groups have longstanding ties to the Mexican Mafia, according to prosecutors.
The drugs and guns involved in the case 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, according to court documents.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said.
“The gangs are always on our radar, but when they endanger our most precious and vulnerable population — our children — we will act decisively.”
— City News Service