Nine suspects were arrested after a 40-foot vessel carrying 5,100 pounds of marijuana was intercepted by authorities in Pescadero late Friday night.
The panga, a lightweight boat commonly used by drug smugglers, was seized at Año Nuevo State Park around midnight on Friday and six men were initially arrested. Three additional suspects were taken into custody around 10 a.m. on Saturday, according to Virginia Kice, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security notified San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force agents that such a boat might be landing off the coast. The agents witnessed two large vans enter Año Nuevo State Beach around 10 p.m. Friday and meet a panga that landed there. Agents stopped the vans as they drove onto Highway 1.
The panga floated off after the marijuana had been loaded off the boat, but a local fisherman spotted it adrift. It was recovered by the U.S. Coast Guard, according to a release from the San Mateo County district attorney’s office.
The boat was piloted from Mexico, and four of the suspects are residents of Sinaloa, Mexico, authorities say. The other suspects are from San Diego and San Jose, Calif. The defendants are 20-year-old Luis Farid Gonzalez, 36-year-old Mario Gonzalez, 39-year-old Juan Hernandez, 50-year-old Juan Valdez Lopez, 28-year-old Luis Espinoza Mendoza, 39-year-old Estaban Flores Salazar, 19-year-old Joan Sicairos, 38-year-old Mark Richard Teixeira, and 33-year-old Phin Yo Vorn.
All of the defendants, with the exception of Mario Gonzalez, who was unavailable for court, pleaded not guilty on Monday. The preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 14. Bail for all the defendants has been set for $1 million, and all are currently being held at San Mateo County jail.
Kice said it’s possible that the defendants could still face federal prosecution, as well.
Agencies that assisted with this incident include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is the lead investigative agency, the Border Enforcement Security Task Force, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Land Management.
This incident is the second of its kind in recent months. In May, a little more than 1,200 pounds of marijuana were seized from an abandoned panga that washed ashore at Pescadero State Beach.
From Oct. 1, 2013, through July 9, 2014, there were two drug smuggling vessels seized in San Mateo County along with 1,026 pounds of marijuana. No arrests were made in conjunction with these incidents. According to statistics provided by Kice, the majority of smuggling apprehensions during that time took place in open ocean waters, including those off Mexico.