Ten Associated with Nuestra Familia Plead Guilty to Drug Trafficking Offenses in Kings and Tulare Counties

Ten Associated with Nuestra Familia Plead Guilty to Drug Trafficking Offenses in Kings and Tulare Counties

FRESNO, Calif. — Ten defendants arrested as part of Operation Red Reaper have pleaded guilty today to drug trafficking offenses, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

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.

Pleading guilty today are 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 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.

Charges are pending against the remaining defendants. The charges are only allegations; they are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results.

This effort is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at www.justice.gov/OCDETF.

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