SAN FRANCISCO—Law enforcement officials busted a massive northern California drug and weapons ring based in the East Bay last week arresting close to two dozen people who have been charged with several crimes.
A total of 17 suspects where arrested, two of which are San Francisco residents, were charged on Wednesday, August 24 at 14 different locations across the state—from San Francisco to the Central Valley; most of the defendants are scheduled to have detention hearings before U.S. Magistrate Kandis Westmore in Oakland next week to determine whether or not they will remain in custody while awaiting trial.
The U.S. Department of Justice describes the crime as “a broad ranging criminal conspiracy” to traffic methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, marijuana and the prescription drug alprazolam, according to the affidavit.
The ring’s operation was comprised of street dealers, grow house operators, drop-off locations, money launderers and an armorer, who manufactured silencers and made guns fully automatic.
A criminal complaint and 62-page law enforcement affidavit was written by San Ramon police detective Jared Pereira—who has been deputized as a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Task Officer and filed by prosecutors last week. The report was unsealed upon the arrests on Wednesday and announced by U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch of San Francisco on Thursday.
Oscar Vladmir Escalante—nicknamed “Cuddy” and Hoggy”—of Discovery Bay is the alleged ring-leader and scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday, August 31. Escalante is accused of overseeing drug sales, maintaining connections with suppliers, managing the ring’s finances, arranging the purchasing of guns that were later modified to become fully automatic and supervising the operation of marijuana grow houses in San Francisco, Oakland, Antioch, Discovery Bay, Tracy and Delano, according to the affidavit.
Escalante has been wheelchair-bound since last year when he was shot in San Francisco’s Mission District, where he allegedly maintained a storefront used in laundering drug proceeds on May 23, 2015, according to police.
The front was located at 5240 Mission St. and posed as a clothing and tattoo shop called “Gift 2 Gab;” the store has one location in San Francisco and another in San Jose. Both establishments were used to launder Escalante’s drug proceeds and he was allegedly building a marijuana grow room at a location he had rented next-door to his San Francisco Gift 2 Gab location.
Others charged for their involvement in the ring’s operation include:
- Melina Escalante, Oscar’s wife, assisted him in laundering the proceeds of his drug business;
- Claudia Munoz, Oscar’s girlfriend, managed utilities and rental of real property for the grow houses;
- Jorge Gomez managed a number of the grow houses;
- David Vigil managed cultivation in a grow house and supplied methamphetamine;
- Alfredo Ortiz assisted in the operations at four grow houses;
- Julian Reayoung distributed heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana;
- Christian Vanleer distributed heroin, cocaine, and alprazolam;
- Michael Vicochea operated a grow house and distributed methamphetamine;
- Ignacio Gonzalez managed a grow house and collected money from people who received drugs;
- Daniel Medina-Garay distributed heroin and functioned as a street-level dealer;
- Adam Abdelwahhab modified firearms to make them fully automatic and then supplied them to the conspirators;
- Louis Ramirez assisted in growing and distributing marijuana and concentrated cannabis;
- Joel Salcedo supplied heroin and methamphetamine to Oscar Escalante and Michael Vicochea;
- Sean Chin was involved with at least one marijuana grow; and
- James Hinkle assisted with growing and transporting marijuana plants.
All 17 defendants have been charged with engaging in a conspiracy to distribute heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, alprazolam and 100 or more marijuana plants, according to a press release from the Department of Justice.
Escalante, Vicochea, Abdelwahhab and Salcedo were additionally charged with possession of a machine gun; Oscar and Melina Escalante, Munoz, Reayoung and Vicochea were charged with money laundering as well.
All defendants are slated to appear before a U.S. Magistrate Judge by next week; all appearances will be made before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kandis Westmore except Vigil and Hinkle, who will appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stanley A. Boone in Sacramento and Salcedo, who will appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu in San Jose.
The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the DEA, the San Roman Police Department, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the Marin County Sheriff’s Office and the Oakland Police Department