According to records from the California Department of Justice, two horse ranches in rural Patterson were the chief operating units for the Central Valley spread. In a federal criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, eight people, including at least two Patterson residents, face counts of conspiracy to distribute drugs.
Among the eight suspects facing major federal drug charges are Patterson’s Agustin Ramirez, 62, and Alfonso Magana, whose age is currently unknown by agents. Francisco Felix, 40 of Mountain House, who is believed to be the leader of the drug ring, was also arrested during the investigation.
Investigators believe Felix is the leader of what they refer to as the Felix Drug Trafficking Organization that operated chiefly out of two horse ranches owned by Ramirez on the 1700 block of Almond Avenue in rural Patterson.
All face a preliminary examination on drug charges scheduled for Feb. 13. Felix and Ramirez remain in federal custody while Magana has been released on a $100,000 bond.
State and federal drug agents from the Central Valley High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, the California Department of Justice, California Department of Corrections, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security investigators, as well as sheriff deputies from several counties, bore down on the Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced County areas that Wednesday morning.
The organizations could be seen at several locations throughout Stanislaus County, including the two ranches in the rural area southeast of Patterson that authorities now call “the hub” of the drug trafficking scheme.
The criminal complaint goes into explicit detail into a year long undercover operation that utilized confidential informants to infiltrate the Felix DTO, according to the complaint. The undercover operation requested search warrants at 18 properties in the Central Valley, including five in the Patterson area, and others in Mountain House, Tracy, Ceres, Turlock Modesto, Stevinson and Newman.
But it was the two horse ranches on Almond Avenue that served as the center of activity.
The complaint states that on multiple occasions over the last year, the ranches served as a haven for purchases of marijuana, methamphetamine and illegal firearms in transactions that included Ramirez, Feliz, Magana and others.
During the widespread search, authorities encountered five indoor marijuana grow operations, including one with more than 2,100 plants. The investigators also seized a shotgun, two handguns, nearly 60 pounds of processed marijuana and more than $20,000 in cash.
Investigators believe the drug trafficking organization was cultivating marijuana and distributing methamphetamine. Evidence uncovered during the investigation indicates the ring used sophisticated methods to conceal and smuggle the contraband, including commercial trucks with hollowed out drive shafts and vehicles equipped with hidden compartments.
Authorities also bought more than 85 pounds of methamphetamine from the cartel during the year-long investigation for as much as $7,000 per pound through the confidential informants.
The 105 page federal criminal complaint lays out a case that started when a confidential informant gave information about the cartel in January 2013. At that time, that informant, as well as a second informant, infiltrated the organization and began buying marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and illegal guns. The informants posed as drug traffickers who could move the drugs from the Central Valley to Chicago for distribution through the use of commercial trucks. Agents used undercover surveillance as well as wiretaps. Aerial surveillance by agents spotted hundreds of marijuana plants growing at various locations, including more than 50 plants growing at the horse ranches on Almond Avenue and more than 100 plants at another location in rural Patterson on the 12000 block of Elm Avenue.
Nick Rappley can be reached at 209-568-9975 or firstname.lastname@example.org.