SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — At least 15 suspected Sureño gang members have been charged by federal and local officials with setting up a ‘one-stop’ operation in a Concord shopping center parking lot to distribute illegal drugs including heroin and cocaine and sell illegal weapons used in violent crimes across Contra Costa County.

Calling the investigation ‘Operation Boulevard Blues,’ federal and local law enforcement officers targeted an outdoor bazaar of illegal drugs and guns being run in a shopping center parking lot at 1500 Monument Boulevard.

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According to the complaint, Sureño gang members claimed control over the shopping center, referring to it as “The Block” or “The Box,” and described it to undercover officers as a kind of “one-stop shop” for guns and drugs.

“Today’s charges explode the myth of the non-violent drug dealer,” said U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson. “Drugs are expensive. Drugs are dangerous. Where we find drugs, we almost always find guns. What is particularly appalling about today’s charges is that the defendants did not even bother to hide the guns or drugs. Rather, the defendants allegedly peddled their products in broad daylight in public spaces.”

According to affidavits filed in connection with the complaints, multiple individuals are alleged to have conspired to sell drugs and guns throughout the East Bay.

“The defendants are alleged to have sold methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and firearms in Concord, Pleasant Hill, Brentwood and elsewhere in Contra Costa County,” said Anderson.

He said 26 defendants were in custody with 74 guns seized or purchased by law enforcement during the operation, including AK-47 style assault weapons and so called “ghost guns” without serial numbers.

Federal prosecutors said authorities served 34 search warrants across the Bay Area in recent weeks and seized 42 guns and illegal drugs.

Of the 15 defendants charged federally, eight were taken into custody on September 10, 2020. Three additional defendants are due to be transferred from state to federal custody, while two more will stay in state custody.

The guns and drugs were allegedly sold in broad daylight and in public spaces. That news shocked some who live and shop in the area.

“We are a little surprised, because we come here a lot and I never noticed any activity here before,” said Matt Campbell, a Concord resident who lives nearby.

This safe streets task force started back in April 2019 because of problematic gang activity.

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“When gangs come established in our neighborhoods, the public are most vulnerable are the ones who get caught in the crossfire and suffer the consequences,” said Craig Fair with the FBI’s San Francisco Division.

Contra Costa County officials have also filed local charges stemming from the investigation.

Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton said murder charges have been filled in four cold case homicides spanning from 2014-2018. Three of those were in Concord and one in Antioch.

The DA’s Office said the homicide complaints involved the following Sureños gang members, with all of the alleged four homicides committed for the benefit of the gang:

People v. Michael Valdez, Andrew Cervantes and Daniel Rodriguez, Docket Number 01-194377-8

  • Victim is Marcos Villazon, Date of Alleged Murder is November 21, 2015
  • Victim is Luis Estrada, Date of Alleged Murder is November 30, 2015

People v. Rafael Lopez and Juan Barocio Jr., Docket Number 01-194379-4

  • Victim is Victor Gutierrez, Date of Alleged Murder is April 17, 2014

People v. Jose Cisneros, Marcos Ochoa, Luis Cruz, Aurelia Mendez, Antonio Mendez and Jose Ochoa, Docket Number 01-194418-0

  • Victim is Erick Cruz, Date of Alleged Murder is September 12, 2015

The criminal investigations because of this operation are still active and ongoing. All of the defendants charged by the DA’s Office remain in custody.

Special Agent in Charge Patrick Gorman, San Francisco Field Division, ATF, said his agency began working with the Concord Police Department on the operation in April 2019. The FBI Safe Streets division, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and others agencies soon joined in.

“This operation exemplifies the dedication of the FBI and our task force partners to disrupt dangerous gang activity and remove the threat of criminals who endanger our neighborhoods,” said Fair. “We are committed to improving the quality of life in our Bay Area communities and ensuring the safety of our citizens.”

Concords Police Chief Mark Bustillos ended the conference, saying, “Today Concord is safer. Families are safer. Kids are safer.”

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Juliette Goodrich contributed to this story.