While many Santa Barbara residents were awoken Saturday morning to the sights and sounds of a lot of police activity in their neighborhoods, the awakening was much ruder for 11 people who police say were part of an illegal firearms- and drug-trafficking organization. They were arrested Saturday in a multiple-location raid that revealed more than a dozen large, high-powered firearms and a variety of drugs. The raids were part of Operation Apehanger-so named because one of the suspects rides a motorcycle with oversized, often illegal “apehanger” handlebars. Many of the weapons seized had been manufactured by the suspects. “This is a major, major investigation,” said William Telish, senior special agent for the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. “The people who own these weapons are major criminals, and hopefully we can put them in jail for a long time.”
The raids marked the culmination of a more than eight-month investigation that began with a detective in the Santa Barbara Police Department and was then handed over to the narcotics unit, which soon discovered that the operation involved illegal firearm manufacturing in addition to drugs. Santa Barbara police eventually decided more assistance was needed, Police Chief Cam Sanchez explained at a news conference Tuesday, and brought in federal agencies that included the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. “It certainly was obvious we had a bigger thing to deal with,” Sanchez said. Together, with the Santa Barbara Regional Narcotic Enforcement Team composed of several county agencies, the bust was made by more than 100 officers at seven different locations around the city-including a few on the Mesa, one of which occurred across the street from Monroe Elementary School.
Seized in the raids were eight AK-47 fully automatic assault rifles, one AR-15 assault rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, two Glock .40-caliber handguns, and a .45-caliber automatic gun. Also recovered were spare parts that could convert assault rifles to fully automatic, boxes of ammunition, and more than 80 illegal marijuana plants with a street value of more than $100,000, as well as cocaine, methamphetamine, and psychedelic mushrooms. The main focus of the raids was on seven suspects, while five others were arrested on charges as well. One of those was already in jail, and was re-arrested with charges related to this case. The suspects, ranging in age from 18 to 52, are now facing a variety of charges including possession of illegal firearms, conspiracy to distribute illegal firearms, and drug possession.
Not much is known about the 12 people arrested. At least five of the suspects are convicted criminals with mostly drug-related arrests prior. Their immigration status is unknown. It is also not known if they are tied to a larger criminal operation. One man, Jose Farias, has had 12 criminal cases in Santa Barbara Superior Court dating back to 1981. Others arrested include Thomas E. Dominguez, Thomas A. Dominguez, Robert Maynez, Alejandro Raya, Virginia Highfield, Micah McCabe, Jacob Farias, Michael Finerty, Keith Brown, and Chrysta Ramirez.
The joint effort with federal agencies marks the second time in the past year Santa Barbara police have collaborated with the feds, the last coming in October 2008 for Operation Gator Roll, which netted the arrest of more than 200 gang members in Santa Barbara. That effort was the first of its kind in Santa Barbara and made a big dent in the Eastside gang. “What we’re getting better at is using resources the best we can,” Sanchez said. “It’s not about jurisdictional lines. It’s about keeping the streets safe.” Sanchez said it remains to be seen if the suspects from Operation Apehanger will face any federal charges and indicated the investigation was ongoing. Investigators are planning to trace the weapons and parts to see where they came from, as well as try to learn where they possibly were going.