Thursday, December 16, 2010
Two Monterey County men have been indicted on 14 counts of federal weapons trafficking and possession charges following a seven-month investigation led by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. More than 70 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers from the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Salinas Police Department, and County Sheriff's Office took part in the searches and arrests. Officers seized nine military-style assault weapons, including a fully-automatic machine gun, 1500 rounds of ammunition, a silencer, and $22,000 in cash.
The defendants, Israel Espinoza, 30, of Salinas and Manuel Lopez, 45, of Prunedale, are indicted on charges of conspiracy to deal firearms, possession of a machine gun, and possession of an unregistered silencer. In addition, Espinoza is charged with seven counts of felon-in-possession of a firearm, possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number, and dealing firearms without a license. If convicted on all counts, Lopez could face up to 25 years in prison, and Espinoza could face up to 105 years.
Stephen C. Herkins, special agent in charge for the ATF praised the arrests and weapons seizures as “a wake-up call to traffickers who are preying on the citizens of Salinas.” With more than 5000 identifiable gang members in Salinas, Sheriff Mike Kanalakis identified weapons seizures like this as an essential part of gang eradication efforts, although the US Attorney did not comment on whether the defendants are gang members. When asked where the arrest warrants were issued, a US Attorney's office spokesperson said the locations are "not part of the public record at this time."
These arrests come 8 months after Operation Knockout, in which 37 arrests were made, and 12 guns, 40 pounds of cocaine, 14 pounds of marijuana, nine ounces of methamphetamine, and $34,000 in cash were seized. Although this week’s numbers are low in comparison, District Attorney Dean D. Flippo said, “A few weapons can kill many people.”
Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue sees the arrests as a natural extension of enforcement efforts that originated with Operation Knockout, calling the arrests “a terrific display of collaboration” between agencies on the federal, state, and local levels. “Operation Knockout was not for show, it was not a one-time event,” Donohue said.