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10 arrested following interdiction of drug smuggling boat north of Los Angeles

VENTURA, Calif. — Ten people are in custody following the predawn interdiction Wednesday of a Mexican “panga” boat loaded with more than a ton of marijuana along the Ventura County coast north of Los Angeles.

California National Guardsmen, working in support of the Central California Maritime Agency Coordination Group, initially spotted the vessel offshore and relayed the information to the U.S. Border Patrol. Border Patrol agents responded to the beach near Deer Creek road shortly after 2 a.m. There they discovered the 27-foot boat along with numerous bales of marijuana totaling approximately 2,500 pounds. In addition to the marijuana, authorities also seized two vehicles located in the landing area believed to be linked to the smuggling scheme.

“This interdiction illustrates our ability to analyze information and execute a collaborative operational plan with our partners to deploy a rapid response to mitigate this threat,” said Justin Delatorre, acting assistant chief patrol agent with San Diego Sector Border Patrol.

According to agents at the scene, four of those taken into custody arrived on board the boat. The remaining arrestees were found in the landing area. The ongoing probe is being spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

“This interdiction clearly shows our joint efforts to target this type of smuggling activity are having an impact,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE HSI in Los Angeles. “Today’s enforcement action should send a strong message to the criminal organizations in Mexico responsible for these incidents in Southern California that we’ve got them in our cross-hairs.”

In addition to the U.S. Border Patrol and HSI, several other law enforcement agencies assisted with Wednesday morning’s enforcement action, including the U.S. Coast Guard and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.

“Close collaboration with our partners has helped us ensure the success of this operation so we can uniformly keep our streets safe from illegal drugs,” said Capt. Roger Laferriere, the commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach. “We look forward to continued success through close partnerships.”

“I am absolutely thrilled with the partnerships we’ve forged with federal, state and local authorities to prevent drug trafficking in this county,” said Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean. “We look forward to continuing to work together to keep our county safe.”

In response to the escalating number of maritime smuggling incidents in the Los Angeles area, authorities have intensified efforts to target the illegal activity, expanding the use of marine patrols, land-based surveillance and collaboration with the Government of Mexico.

Those efforts are being overseen by the Department of Homeland Security’s recently established Central California Maritime Agency Coordination Group. The Group is comprised of ICE HSI; U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Air and Marine, Office of Field Operations and Border Patrol; the U.S. Coast Guard; and several state and local law enforcement agencies, including the sheriff’s departments of Orange and Los Angeles counties; and the Los Angeles Police Department. The Group is also receiving substantial assistance from the California National Guard.

In fiscal year 2011, the Maritime Agency Coordination Group recorded a total of 26 maritime smuggling incidents in the greater Los Angeles area, including seven in Ventura County. So far in fiscal year 2012, there have been 10 such incidents in the Southland, including two in Ventura County and one in Santa Barbara County.

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