In what is being hailed as one of the biggest drug raids in county history, police on Thursday announced 17 arrests and the seizure of more than $18 million worth of narcotics, weapons and cash from a criminal drug trafficking organization in West Contra Costa County.
The two-year investigation known as Operation Crystal Lens began yielding arrests in November, after a narcotics team known as West-NET was assembled to work with the FBI, San Pablo Police Cmdr. Jeff Palmieri said Thursday.
It resulted in the seizure over the past two months of approximately 475 pounds of methamphetamine, 158 grams of cocaine, several guns with high-capacity magazines, cars and motorcycles used in the operation and more than $950,000 in cash, he said. The methamphetamine alone was worth a street value of approximately $17 million, he said.
“This is big,” Palmieri said. “When you look at the totality of what the units were able to accomplish, it’s one of the biggest seizures of narcotics in West Contra Costa County history.”
Police did not identify the suspects arrested but said they were connected to the Norteno street gang. One suspect, identified as Gabriel Urtiz, remains on the loose, Palmieri said.
The operation revealed that the narcotics were provided by the Mexico-based Sinaloa drug cartel. The cartel also has been called the Federation and Blood Alliance and at various times has been considered the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world.
The investigation revealed that drugs and weapons were trafficked, and that the proceeds were laundered by the criminal street gangs, Palmieri said.
Police have not revealed the locations where the raids and investigation took place over the past few months, only saying there were multiple sites in West Contra Costa County.
Officers from 10 local agencies made up the West-NET team, which was supervised by a California Department of Justice task force commander working in tandem with the FBI, Palmieri said. The agencies involved included the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office and Probation Department; the Hercules, Kensington, Pinole, Richmond and San Pablo police departments, and the Northern California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
“Anytime you take that much narcotics from an organized criminal structure, it’s a great thing,” Palmieri said. “It’s not going into our streets, and it curbs violence. This is very significant.”