32 Charged in Major Marijuana Grow Operation
May 30 (Sacramento, CA) — A federal grand jury returned an eight-count indictment last week on Thursday, charging Steven Ortega Sr., of Byron; Steven Ortega Jr., of Discovery Bay, and 30 others, with conspiracy to grow marijuana, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams and United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
According to documents filed in court, this drug trafficking organization used the Grower’s Choice Hydroponics stores in Tracy and Hayward to front lighting and growing equipment for cultivation and to launder the proceeds. Members of the organization converted warehouses and houses, often in residential neighborhoods, into marijuana grow houses. They harvested and sold the marijuana in large quantities, often to out-of-state drug traffickers.
On May 16 and 17, federal and local law enforcement officers searched 41 locations in Northern California. According to court documents, agents recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and numerous firearms, including guns that were reported stolen and guns with obliterated serial numbers. Calls intercepted on wiretaps during the investigation showed that members of the organization used firearms to protect the marijuana grow houses. Agents also found approximately 17 electrical bypasses, which are used by marijuana cultivators to steal electricity. Electricity for grow houses can cost several thousand dollars per month per grow house.
U.S. Attorney Wagner said: “We will continue to target sophisticated interstate drug trafficking organizations that protect their operations with firearms. The use of legitimate businesses to facilitate marijuana cultivation and launder the proceeds of trafficking is a classic feature of such organizations.”
1. Marla Ortega, 57, of Byron;
Burge, Erickson, Figlia, Kennedy, Ojeda, and Perry have a bench warrant for their arrest. The remaining defendants are scheduled for arraignment today at 2:00 p.m. in federal court in Sacramento.
This case is the product of an extensive investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, and numerous other agencies in Northern California including the San Leandro Police Department and the METRO Task Force. Assistant United States Attorney Michael D. Anderson is prosecuting the case.
The statutory penalty for the charge is 10 years to life in prison. The actual sentences, if convicted, 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.
The charges are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.