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HSI-led probe dismantles gang-run drug ring and nets record gun seizure

SAN DIEGO – Federal and local law enforcement officials Tuesday announced the results of a long-term probe that dismantled a drug and gun trafficking ring involving members of 13 different Southern California gangs, resulting in one of San Diego County’s largest single-day weapons seizures.

Special agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and detectives from the San Diego Police Department arrested more than three dozen people, mostly gang members or gang associates, and seized a cache of 60 weapons during the two-year investigation dubbed “Crystal Palace.” That number includes 33 guns found in a single day during searches of homes and storage bins in Spring Valley, Lomita Village and Mira Mesa earlier this month.

According to federal indictments and search warrant affidavits unsealed Tuesday, 37 defendants are accused of trafficking in guns, methamphetamine, heroin, Ecstasy, marijuana and cocaine.

“Through a collaborative effort with local law enforcement, we’ve succeeded in dismantling a dangerous gang-operated criminal enterprise in the heart of San Diego,” said Derek Benner, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego. “Promoting public safety is at the core of our mission and we remain committed to using our expertise and resources to protect our communities so that law-abiding residents will have a safe place to live and work.”

“The San Diego Police Department is proud of the cooperative relationships we have with all the law enforcement agencies in the San Diego area,” said San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne. “The time and effort spent on this operation was incredibly worthwhile because it got guns, drugs and criminals off the streets and made our neighborhoods safer.”

Court records allege that defendants Norman Nooris, 41, Tony Lomeli, 43, and Hao Duc Tang, 37, all of San Diego, operated drug importation and distribution cells that trafficked a significant volume of methamphetamine and guns. Each of the cells is suspected of having gang ties.

One of the defendants, Veronica Ojeda, 36, of San Diego, is accused of distributing large quantities of drugs out of her grandmother’s house, less than a block from an elementary school on San Vicente Street in the Lomita Village area of San Diego.

HSI special agents say this case is unique because of the number and type of weapons seized. The items included Uzi submachine guns, AR-15 assault rifles, shotguns, high-powered rifles with optics and laser sighting systems, silencers and a law enforcement Taser. Authorities also found 4,000 rounds of ammunition, Kevlar body armor, $34,000 in cash, and various quantities of drugs, including approximately 15 pounds of methamphetamine with an estimated street value of more than $200,000.

This investigation was part of HSI’s Operation Community Shield, an international law enforcement initiative to enhance U.S. public safety. Under Operation Community Shield, HSI partners with existing federal, state and local anti-gang efforts to identify violent street gangs and develop intelligence on gang members and associates, gang criminal activities and international movements, to arrest, prosecute, imprison and/or deport transnational gang members, as well as to suppress violence and prosecute criminal enterprises.

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