Four Mexican nationals facing 10 years to life for marijuana possession

Four Mexican nationals, who allegedly attempted to transport marijuana in a fishing boat to a Santa Barbara County beach, were named in a indictment Friday charging them with possessing and intending to distribute more than 4,700 pounds of marijuana.

The federal grand jury indictment charges four men, all of Sinaloa, Mexico, with one count of possession with intent to distribute at least 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, a crime that carries a statutory maximum sentence of life imprisonment and mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison:

·         Alejo Garcia-Moreno, 54;

·         Benito Garcia-Moreno, 59, Alejo Garcia-Moreno’s brother;

·         Mario Sainz-Aranzubia, 44, a cousin of Alejo and Benito Garcia-Moreno; and

·         Benny Zazueta-Sainz, 28, Sainz-Aranzubia’s nephew.

On the evening of March 11, a law enforcement airplane observed an open-bowed fishing vessel known as a “panga boat,” loaded with suspected narcotics and traveling toward Goleta. The four defendants later were identified as the boat’s crew members.

In the early morning hours of March 12, the panga boat landed at Hollister Ranch Beach in Goleta. In addition to the four crew members on the panga boat, law enforcement saw 14 additional individuals on the beach, as well as two other people on a hill who appeared to be conducting counter-surveillance of law enforcement activity, according to the affidavit. Once the boat landed, the 14 non-crew members on the beach offloaded bales of marijuana from the boat and moved the bales to multiple vehicles waiting nearby, according to court documents.

Law enforcement Officers descended on the Hollister Ranch Beach, and the suspected narcotics traffickers scattered and fled. Officers pursued the suspects and arrested a total of 21 people, including the four defendants named in Friday’s indictment. The other 17 people were released.

Following the arrests, law enforcement recovered a total over 200 bales of marijuana from the panga boat, the Hollister Ranch Beach area, and the van, according to statements made in court. In total, the four defendants are charged with possessing with intent to distribute 4,714.6 pounds of marijuana, according to the indictment.

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, California State Parks, California Highway Patrol, and the United States Coast Guard investigated this matter. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jamari Buxton of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.

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