March 15, 2006

Raid Snares 9 Suspected Drug Dealers

By Karl Fischer, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Mar. 15--Authorities completed a four-month wiretap surveillance of prominent North Richmond drug-dealing suspects with a massive raid of at least 12 homes in Contra Costa and Solano counties Tuesday.

Detectives arrested nine people as of Tuesday afternoon, including street-level drug-dealing suspects, prominent gang suspects who control the supply of drugs reaching the street corners and some suspects who supply the suppliers, according to a federal affidavit.

The wiretapping of cell phones and residences ran from October to January, during which time Contra Costa sheriff's detectives, agents from the West Contra Costa Narcotics Enforcement Team and the FBI recorded dozens of conversations relating to drug trafficking in the unincorporated enclave of 4,500 residents.

Federal documents show that much of the surveillance focused on 31-year-old Richmond resident Michael "Project Mike" Johnson and 34-year-old Hercules resident Bobby Ray Williams, both notorious street-gang suspects.

"In particular, Williams and Johnson distribute narcotics at wholesale prices to others either for further distribution to other wholesalers or for distribution to the end-users at the retail or 'street' level," wrote FBI Special Agent Richard Davis in the complaint affidavit released Tuesday afternoon.

Most of the other suspects are either subordinates or street-level drug-dealing suspects, authorities said, or trafficking suspects who supplied Williams and Johnson with a large share of the cocaine and methamphetamine sold at some of North Richmond's more notorious drug corners.

Most of the suspects arrested are members of a street gang that has terrorized North Richmond for two decades, said Contra Costa sheriff's Lt. Kitty Parker, including those believed to have committed violent crimes. The Times does not name street gangs.

"All of the violence we've seen in North Richmond lately, we want it to end," Parker said. "The violence is there because of the drugs. Everything stems from the drugs."

It was the second wave of arrests connected to North Richmond street crime in two months. In early February, a Contra Costa criminal grand jury indicted nine people on suspicion of state charges. Seven of those suspects remain in custody, Parker said, while two others have bailed out of County Jail in Martinez.

Those arrested Tuesday were formally charged in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on suspicion of federal drug charges, and they included:

-- Johnson and Williams;

-- 39-year-old Richmond resident Stephen Montgomery;

-- 30-year-old Fairfield resident Eddie Thomas;

-- 43-year-old Sacramento resident Sherman Gay;

-- 24-year-old Mark Gibson;

-- 34-year-old Antioch resident Jose Batriz;

-- 19-year-old Richmond resident Tanya Walton; and

-- 42-year-old San Pablo resident Martin Roberts.

Six other suspects named in an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court by Davis had not been arrested as of Tuesday afternoon.

Authorities raided houses in North Richmond, Richmond, Hercules, Fairfield, Vallejo, Concord and Antioch beginning about 6 a.m. As of Tuesday afternoon, they had seized about $83,500 in cash, three cars, a handgun, an AK-47 assault rifle, and sale quantities of crack cocaine, powder cocaine and methamphetamine from various residences, Parker said.

Much of the evidence supporting the arrests and search warrants was gathered through a wiretapping warrant obtained by sheriff's detectives Shawn Pate and Lance Santiago, along with their FBI counterparts, beginning last October.

The gang involved is a loosely associated collection of "sets" that operate drug dealing and street-crime enterprise from specific street corners and geographic delineations within the unincorporated community. Methamphetamine, heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana are all commonly sold on North Richmond streets.

While local authorities continued using conventional tactics to gather information about the narcotics suspects, such as undercover work and surveillance, the willingness of the FBI to participate in the case and help secure the wiretap warrants greatly accelerated the case.

"We always have ongoing investigations, and we frequently work jointly with the sheriff's office and other agencies," WestNET Cmdr. Steve Ladeck said. "So once we realized how many tentacles this organization had, it was natural for us to work together. It was a collaborative effort."

The wiretap also helped sheriff's detectives bring a murder charge against 33-year-old Anthony Wilson in Contra Costa Superior Court in January. Authorities say Wilson shot and killed 27-year-old Rodrigo Cadenas-Del Rio on Dec. 24 after Cardenas rear-ended a van near Second Street and Silver Avenue.

That case had to do with a personal dispute rather than organized street crime, authorities said.

Long notorious for drug dealing and street violence, the unincorporated community is periodically the focus of law enforcement sweeps. During the mid-1990s, local agencies and WestNET secured numerous convictions in state and federal court against gang members and helped bring about a lull in street violence there.

But street shootings have escalated of late. Authorities here investigated five homicides in the town during each of the past two years, and two so far this year.

Those five-homicide totals in 2004 and 2005 were the highest in North Richmond since before 1996, during the height of turf-fueled aggression between drug-dealing interests in several West County communities.

While authorities do not believe Tuesday's arrests will eliminate North Richmond's illicit economy, they do believe the people arrested were heavy contributors.

"What we focused on was ... the shooters, the people who we know are responsible for shootings," Parker said, but for whom the sheriff's office lacked evidence to bring charges in Contra Costa Superior Court.

Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728 or [email protected]

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Copyright (c) 2006, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.

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