SANTA CRUZ (KPIX 5) – The Department of Homeland Security and Santa Cruz police busted what was described as a violent street gang linked to murders and drug trafficking early Monday morning.
Residents said they were woken up by the sound of helicopters and flash bang grenades around 4 a.m. At that time, authorities launched raids in multiple locations, served a dozen warrants and made 10 arrests.
The raid was targeting members of the MS-13 gang responsible for a variety of crimes. Authorities said the gang has been operating in the Santa Cruz area for at least a decade.
“It’s been a multi-year investigation, into a criminal street gang organization that has been operating in the local area,” Deputy Chief Dan Flippo of the Santa Cruz Police Department told KPIX 5.
“They’ve got a history of murder, extortion and narcotics trafficking in our local area,” Flippo went on to say.
Neighbor Buddy Carrigan woke up to the sounds of what he thought were gunshots.
“There was a big boom. All I heard was a big boom,” said Carrigan.
He lives just steps from one of the homes raided. When asked how he felt about the fact that these suspects were right next door, he replied, “Uncomfortable, but comfortable now they’re gone.”
Santa Cruz police and other law enforcement agencies helped with the arrests throughout the area, including a street near the famous Boardwalk.
Another area resident who only gave his name as Michael said he was relieved the alleged gang members were now out of the neighborhood.
“We’re tired of it. As a community we need this element extracted from our streets,” said Michael. “We have gang members out that think they rule our streets.”
Santa Cruz Police told KPIX that 10 men were arrested. All ten men were federally indicted on Monday afternoon for a variety of charges ranging from extortion to possession of methamphetamine. Several women and teenagers who were detained had been let go as of 9 a.m.
Police said the suspects are alleged members of a street gang with ties to Central America. At least one person is subject to deportation.
Members of the Santa Cruz community have questioned whether the gang raid was really an immigration raid.
But Flippo said it had nothing to do with an immigration raid and that the investigation had actually been underway for about five years.
The court documents hint at a deeper story of threats, cash, weapons, drugs and nicknames. Colorful nicknames of the suspects include Meduza, Choco, Chino and Diablo.
Allegedly, all the men are members of the Santa Cruz Salvatrucha Locos 13, a subset of the Salvadoran gang MS-13.
Investigators say for the past four years, seven of the men threatened local drug dealers in the Santa Cruz area with violence and extorted money from them.
The other three men were charged with possession of meth with intent to sell.
Jose David Abrego Galdamez, aka Largo has an especially long rap sheet that includes dealing meth and heroin, and illegally re-entering the country.
The feds say he is a high-ranking member of MS-13 and has been deported four times between 2002 and 2010.
The federal government claims to have a strong case against the men arrested.
But defense attorney James McNair Thompson said, “Have you ever heard them indict somebody and say they don’t think they have a strong case? Of course they said they think they have a strong case. We’ll find out.”