“Investigating and removing drug traffickers from our streets and neighborhoods works to improve public safety and our quality of life. These investigations can be dangerous for law enforcement officers and we thank them for putting the safety of others first.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona
FRESNO – On November 29, 2022, ten defendants arrested as part of Operation Red Reaper pleaded guilty to drug trafficking offenses.
In 2019, Operation Red Reaper was a federal, state, and local law enforcement operation that targeted the criminal activities of the Nuestra Familia Prison Gang in the counties of Kings and Tulare. At the conclusion of the operation, federal charges were brought against 23 of those defendants, with the remaining being charged by the Kings County District Attorney’s Office.
Those who Pleaded guilty on November 29th were:
- Raymond Lopez, 35, of Pleasant Valley State Prison;
- Jesse Juarez, 32, of Visalia;
- Daniel Juarez, 30, of Visalia;
- Michael Rocha, 40, of Visalia;
- Angel Montes, 26, of Visalia;
- Rafael Lopez, 41, of Visalia;
- Manuel Barrera, 28, of Kettleman City;
- Joann Bernal, 36, of Armona;
- Ramon Amador, 33, of Riverdale;
- and Raul Lopez Jr., 51, of Visalia.
Two co-defendants have been sentenced after pleading guilty. On May 24, 2021, Salvador Castro Jr., 52, of Fresno, was sentenced to 17 years and six months in prison, and on July 11, 2022, Manuel Garcia, 36, of Armona, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
According to court documents, in March 2019, various law enforcement agencies partnered in an investigation into the Nuestra Familia prison gang and the Norteño street gang in Kings County. The investigation uncovered that the Nuestra Familia was responsible for large-scale trafficking of methamphetamine and cocaine, as well as various firearms offenses and other violent crimes.
According to court documents, high-ranking Nuestra Familia members Salvador Castro Jr. and Raymond Lopez used contraband cellphones from inside Fresno County’s Pleasant Valley State Prison to arrange the transport of illicit narcotics from drug sources in California and Mexico to a stash house in Kings County. From that stash house, gang members outside of the prison coordinated the preparation and delivery of the drugs to distributors throughout Kings and Tulare Counties.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Kings County Gang Task Force, the Special Operations Unit of the California Department of Justice and the California Highway Patrol, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the Kings County District Attorney's Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Justin J. Gilio, Kimberly A. Sanchez, and Jessica A. Massey are prosecuting the case.
Barrera, Amador, Montes, and Raul Lopez are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ana de Alba on March 6, 2023, and the remaining defendants are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge de Alba on March 20, 2023. They face a range of mandatory minimum sentences from between five to 15 years in prison and a range of maximum sentences, including up to life in prison. The actual sentences, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.