Thirteen people were arrested Saturday morning in south Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties after reportedly smuggling “nearly 3,000 pounds of marijuana” ashore at Arroyo Quemada Beach by panga boat, according to a Monday press release from the United States Attorney’s Office for Los Angeles. Eileen M. Decker, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, filed charges Sunday against all 13 defendants, accusing the group of possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute. Life in prison is the statutory maximum penalty for this specific crime, states the press release. The charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) officials on routine patrol in a C130 airplane spotted the panga boat at about 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning at Goleta’s Arroyo Quemada Beach, according to the U.S. Attorney’s complaint. The boat, apparently carrying three people, appeared to be “traveling at a high speed on a northeast course towards the California coastline to the west of Santa Barbara,” read the report.
When the boat reached land, officials reportedly witnessed “over a dozen individuals” working on shore to unload the bales of marijuana. “Two vans and a pick-up truck drove separately to the beach, and bales of marijuana were loaded into the pick-up truck and one of the vans,” read the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release. USCG alerted local authorities, who followed three vehicles as they departed down Arroyo Quemada Lane, the only access road to the beach. The vehicles traveled in different directions.
In Camarillo, authorities stopped the van carrying some of the 114 reported marijuana bales. The second van, transporting alleged drug-smugglers, was stopped when it returned to the beach. The pickup truck, carrying the remaining bales, was stopped in Carpinteria. Between the three vehicles, 11 suspects were arrested. Two remaining suspects were arrested near Arroyo Quemada Beach. The 13 defendants, who range in age from 18-48 and whose residency information has not yet been released, are scheduled to appear Monday afternoon in L.A. federal court.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations, the USCG, the U.S. Border Patrol, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department investigated the incident.
“Smuggling by panga boat endangers the lives of both the smugglers and authorities interdicting the boats and their payloads,” said Decker in Monday’s U.S. Attorney’s Office press release. “Law enforcement has and will continue to use all available means to curtail this dangerous activity.” Since 2012, there have been 10 panga boat landings in the area surrounding the beach, said the complaint.