“This was an operation that targeted violent individuals who were making life unsafe for law-abiding residents going about their daily lives. When law enforcement departments combine their resources and expertise and target known threats to public safety, communities win.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona
FRESNO – On June 12, 2023, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the sentencings in cases brought in 2019 following Operation Red Reaper, a multi-agency investigation into the Nuestra Familia prison gang and the Norteño street gang in Kings County.
The last defendant in case number 1:19-cr-143, Angel Montes, 27, of Visalia, was sentenced to 11 years and three months in prison for facilitating the distribution of the gang’s drugs and the collection of the gang’s proceeds. Eric Mercado, a defendant in a related case (1:19-cr-248) was also sentenced, to two years and six months in prison for illegal possession of a machine gun.
The investigation uncovered that the Nuestra Familia was responsible for large-scale trafficking of methamphetamine and other controlled substances, 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.
The sentences of the other defendants in the case are as follows:
- Salvador Castro Jr., 53, was sentenced to 17 years and six months in prison;
- Raymond Lopez, 35, was sentenced to 16 years and eight months in prison;
- Jesse Juarez, 32, was sentenced to 16 years and eight months in prison;
- Manuel Garcia, 36, was sentenced to 15 years in prison;
- Rafael Lopez 42, was sentenced to 15 years in prison;
- Raul Lopez, 52, was sentenced to 15 years in prison;
- Michael Rocha, 40, was sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison;
- Ramon Amador 33, was sentenced to 10 years in prison;
- Daniel Juarez, 31, was sentenced to 8 years in prison;
- Manuel Barrera, 28, was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison;
- Joann Bernal, 36, was sentenced to time served.
On May 30, 2023, in another case also generated by Operation Red Reaper, Florentino Gutierrez, 41, of Hanford, was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months in prison for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 500 grams and more of a mixture containing methamphetamine. According to court documents, in April and May 2019, Gutierrez conspired with others to traffic over 2 kilograms of methamphetamine. Gutierrez’s plan included using his Cadillac Escalade as collateral to purchase the methamphetamine. His co-conspirators then traveled from Hanford to Bakersfield where they picked up the methamphetamine. On the return trip, investigators stopped the car, searched it, and seized five bags containing a total of over 2 kilograms of methamphetamine.
One of Gutierrez’s co-defendants, Ernesto Zibray, 34, of Delano, pleaded guilty to distribution of methamphetamine and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 10, 2023. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, a maximum sentence of life in prison, and a fine up to $10 million. The actual sentence, 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.
Operation Red Reaper is the product of an investigation by the Kings County Gang Task Force, the California Department of Justice, the California Highway Patrol, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the FBI, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Justin J. Gilio and Kimberly A. Sanchez are prosecuting the cases.