It took nearly two years before the state would finally present its case and begin the first week of trial in what would be known as the “Operation Red Sash ” case against 11 alleged gang members who had sold narcotics to undercover agents during a year-long undercover investigation.
In April of 2012, a Yolo County Narcotic Enforcement Team, in a multi-jurisdiction effort led by, among others, the California Department of Justice, claimed 18 arrests which they said would disrupt a criminal gang network.
On Thursday, 11 of them were arraigned, although charges were dropped on at least one, and another subject of the warrant had been deported at least two years ago.
According to a release from the Attorney General’s Office, “The arrests highlight the Yolo Narcotic Enforcement Team’s (YONET) continued efforts in combating gangs and narcotics trafficking in our communities. YONET consists of all the law enforcement agencies in Yolo County and is led by the California Department of Justice.”
The operation in West Sacramento was named “Operation Red Sash” because of the Northern Riders and Broderick Boys criminal street gang affiliation with the color red and Norteños criminal gang.
During the operation, which began in November 2011, YONET agents served 12 state arrest warrants and 16 state search warrants in the West Sacramento, Sacramento and Roseville areas. The investigation has resulted in 18 arrests, 4 guns, body armor, a stun gun, and drugs. Everyone arrested will be booked into the Yolo County Jail.
“Operation Red Sash” targeted mid-level to high-level members who were distributers of illegal narcotics, according to the release.
They write, “Several of the members identified in this investigation are probationers, six are on parole, and several are validated gang members from Norteño, Northern Riders or Broderick Boys criminal street gangs.”
Those arrested face multiple felony charges related to narcotic trafficking, conspiracy to commit narcotic trafficking and participation in a criminal street gang.
The warrant identified vehicles that the Yolo County District Attorney’s office sought to confiscate and acquire under forfeiture laws.
They were looking for meth, “articles of personal property tending to establish and document use, sales, transportation and/or conspiracy to use, sell and transport methamphetamine including” weapons, cell phones, personal computers, and stolen property.
The warrant says, “Officer Herrera knows from training, experience and the course of this investigation that all or any part of the below items sought after will further establish the above mentioned subject’s participation in this felony crime and their gang affiliation will provide supporting evidence that they are an active criminal street gang members, who committed this felony crime in association with, or at the direction of or in conspiracy with, and/or for the benefit of a criminal street gang.”
On Thursday, YONET Agent Ryan Bellamy testified to much of how the operation began. He said on May 23, 2011, he contacted a man by the moniker name of “Badboy” to purchase some methamphetamine. He said, “You never want to buy from the first seller, you want to look around.” Bellamy stated he contacted “Badboy” to purchase what is known on the street as a “teener,” which is a 16th, half of an “eight ball” of dope. He said Badboy, who is also known as defendant Montoya, told him he could get it for him. Bellamy said they set up a meeting place at the Carl’s Jr. located in West Sacramento.
Agent Bellamy said he met Montoya and purchased 100 dollars’ worth of meth. He said he and Montoya were in his vehicle making the transaction when he saw him lift his shirt, noticing what looked like the end handle of a pistol. After the purchase was made, they shared small talk for a bit and then he dropped him off. Bellamy said after he left the area he did what is called a “counter surveillance,” to make sure no one was following him. He said once the transactions are done, an agent will take the wire they wear and the drugs back to the case agent.
Ryan Bellamy stated the case agent is a female by the name of Alicia Slater. He testified to making another call to Montoya, on June 7, this time asking to purchase an eight ball of meth. Montoya told him he could get him some better meth called “fire,” but it would be more money. Bellamy stated he told Montoya he wanted to try the “fire,” so they agreed to meet.
Agent Bellamy said he did not want to meet Montoya near the apartment complex he had suggested, so he told Montoya to go to a different location. But, instead, Bellamy would drive to the McDonald’s parking lot on Harbor Blvd and wait for the arrest on Montoya to be made by Agent Slater and the team of YONET agents. Montoya was arrested for selling to an undercover cop.
Agent Bellamy stated this was the beginning of the year-long investigation. He said before we begin any surveillance, the agents meet to get briefed on the information on suspects. He said that “all agents are listening as the transactions are made and we can communicate through the wire to other agents.” He said there are usually about eight agents on the team and a supervising agent.
After the second transaction with Montoya was done, Bellamy said he assisted more with the surveillance and security until assisting at two of the locations that were later searched once the operation was done.
Next taking the stand was YONET’s Gary Richter. Agent Richter testified to contacting a man by the name of Lewis. He said he could not state how he knew him, per an evidence code restriction. But Richter said he sent Lewis a text asking him if he could get him some meth. He said that “you start with a small amount and then raise it higher.” He said, “You carry a scale and baggies so they do not think you are a cop.”
Richter said Lewis wore the nickname of “Crownbizz.” He said the two agreed to meet in West Sacramento where Richter was told by Lewis that he needed to go to Woodland to get the dope from his cousin. Richter said Lewis talked about being from the Broderick area during their ride to Woodland. He said they talked about his tattoo work and other small talk.
Richter set up more purchases from Lewis for meth which involved meeting a couple other men from the Broderick and Woodland areas. He said in one of the transactions, Lewis had sold him fake meth. But Lewis agreed to make it right by Agent Richter and help him purchase a gun.
Richter testified to meeting a man Lewis would refer to as “Squiggs,” later identified as Vandyke, a man named Castro, Lewis’s uncle and two other men by the nicknames of “Dreamer and Macao,” during the long investigation.
He said he was asked if he were a cop, and he told them no.
Richter stated that Lewis told him he was on the gang injunction and wore an ankle monitor and was on parole, so he could not be out past curfew.
Richter said Lewis also talked about how the “youngsters” had brought the heat on other alleged gang members because they did not follow the gang rules.
Even though Lewis told Richter he was no longer an active member, he said he did not want to be seen near certain areas. Lewis explained to Richter that he could not be in a gang due to his sex offense conviction.
During cross by defense attorney J. Toney, Richter was asked what Lewis had told him in regard to being an active gang member. Richter stated, “He told me he was a Northern rider dropout because he refused to beat up a man.” Toney asked Richter if he knew that Lewis was broke, and he replied, “Yes.” Toney asked if he knew that Lewis was an addict, and again Richter replied, “Yes.”
The defense attorney for Ezekiel Butcher, Dan Olson, would ask more about the identification of a man Agent Richter had seen driving a silver Lexus Sedan, about whom Richter testified as being one of the people who brought dope to Lewis to sell to Agent Richter. But Richter said he could only tell he was a Hispanic male about 25 to 30 years old, with a faded haircut and wearing a black and white checkered shirt.
Defense attorney Olson asked, “Why did you just now say that the man had some type of tattoo or birth mark on the side of his face but in the grand jury and your reports, you never said that?” Richter replied as a query, “I could not recall?” Olson, raising his voice a bit, asked, “Did you talk during the break to Detective Herrera about his report and what was written in it?” Richter stated, “No.” Olson asked, “So you never read his report? and he did not just tell you about this during break in the hall?” Richter stated, “No, he did not.”
“So he never told you the man, identified as Butcher, had a birth mark or tattoo?” Olson asked. Richter replied, “No, he did not, I cannot recall why I never put that in my report.” He also stated he found no drugs, no pay sheets, no guns during search warrant. Richter stated defendant Morales’s house was the only one where they found drugs and, during the operation, Ezekiel Butcher, Olson’s client, was never seen going there. Richter stated they never located the shirt either that he had seen on the unidentified man who was driving the silver sedan during one of the drug transactions.
Defense Attorney John Brennan, for defendant Montoya, asked Richter about what items were found during the search warrant. Richter stated, “Miscellaneous items.” Richter said when they searched the residence of Montoya they found “no guns, no drugs, no pay sheets, and no scales, but they did find sandwich baggies.”
Richter testified to the fact that, during the search warrants, there were small children in the home of one of the defendants.
He stated, of the items found in some of the residences of defendants, there were pictures with the men who had been known gang members, flashing gang signs and wearing gang attire. He said it tied them together.
Richter says in total there were 19 locations searched, with 11 resident search warrants and eight arrest warrants.
But all four defense counsel got the same answer from Richter when asked about there being any drugs, guns, cash or scales found during the raid. Richter testified to only one house having meth.