Suspects Charged with Possessing 4,700 Pounds of Marijuana on Gaviota Beach

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Suspects Charged with Possessing 4,700 Pounds of Marijuana on Gaviota Beach
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Photo: Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office

Source: Department of Justice

Four Mexican nationals today were named in a federal grand jury indictment charging them with possessing and intending to distribute more than 2,100 kilograms (4,700 pounds) of marijuana, which they allegedly transported on a fishing boat that landed on a Santa Barbara County beach.

The indictment returned this afternoon 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.
(Photo: Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office)

According to an affidavit filed with a criminal complaint in this matter, 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 being the boat’s crewmembers.

The panga boat landed at Hollister Ranch Beach in Goleta at approximately 1:15 a.m. on March 12, the affidavit states. In addition to the crew members on the panga boat that officers aboard the airplane previously observed, 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 entered Hollister Ranch Beach around 3 a.m. 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 today’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 2,138.5 kilograms (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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a-1592016008 Jun 12, 2020 07:40 PM
Suspects Charged with Possessing 4,700 Pounds of Marijuana on Gaviota Beach

about 10 years ago, maybe more - our neighbor came home with a bail of weed. He had it rolled up in a tarp and said he found it bobbing in the water by hope ranch beach. I don't know how much it weighed but it was about the size of two bags of charcoal. Pangas back then?

NostraChumash Jun 12, 2020 09:02 PM
Suspects Charged with Possessing 4,700 Pounds of Marijuana on Gaviota Beach

There was an old man who arose every day to work the fields..
With his wheelbarrow full of dirt, & his shovel, he crossed the same bridge & was subsequently searched by the same guards, poking through his dirt--looking for contraband, but never finding any..
And thus, he lived his life..
smuggling wheelbarrows.

a-1592027062 Jun 12, 2020 10:44 PM
Suspects Charged with Possessing 4,700 Pounds of Marijuana on Gaviota Beach

9:06 - I had the same question. 17 other people? What, exactly, were they doing there - that they were arrested at the same time. I've been to Hollister Ranch, it's not exactly a bustling metropolis.... Big picture, I don't give one rats a** about pot, but if you're going to prosecute, go full scope, not just the folk delivering the order.

rustydad Jun 13, 2020 07:37 AM
Suspects Charged with Possessing 4,700 Pounds of Marijuana on Gaviota Beach

The Hollister Ranch is more difficult to access than a military base. There is no sneaking in. The van was let in by the gate guard and one or more of the wealthy parcel owners likely was involved. If the only persons prosecuted are the ones in the boat then truly justice is blind.

a-1592070187 Jun 13, 2020 10:43 AM
Suspects Charged with Possessing 4,700 Pounds of Marijuana on Gaviota Beach

LOL! Looks like a small boat to be transporting 4 adult males and 4,715 pounds of MJ plus gas!! One would think it would be easier for the shippers, the original owners of this, to just buy into what is probably the THC capital of California, if not the US, Santa Barbara County, second only to Humboldt in legal weed-grows!

bigone Jun 13, 2020 11:57 AM
Suspects Charged with Possessing 4,700 Pounds of Marijuana on Gaviota Beach

For those wondering why marijuana is being smuggled into this country since it is legal to purchase in many states, this happens because these criminal owners/sellers of marijuana obviously are not paying taxes to the local/state/federal government, so there is much more profit involved - plus cheap labor and land south of the border. I have no idea why the 17 others were released, especially if they were illegals.

PitMix Jun 15, 2020 09:57 AM
Suspects Charged with Possessing 4,700 Pounds of Marijuana on Gaviota Beach

What river do they take to get their panga boat to Iowa? Would that be cheaper than loading it into a U-Haul and driving it there from Gaviota? I haven't heard of any of these boats being found empty on a local beach in a while so it seems like this is an endeavor with a low success rate.

Bodyboarder73 Jun 15, 2020 10:22 AM
Suspects Charged with Possessing 4,700 Pounds of Marijuana on Gaviota Beach

I drive the Gaviota Coast 5 nights a week in the middle of the night for work and I've seen a more than few suspicious situations going on that look like stuff is being loaded into all types of vehicles. It could be just travelers just doing their thing. But who knows.

mtndriver Jun 16, 2020 11:47 AM
Suspects Charged with Possessing 4,700 Pounds of Marijuana on Gaviota Beach

Goleta Beach in headline was a head-turner for sure. Might want to change that to Gaviota, if you don't want to mention the Ranch for some reason. And as others have asked, how did "multiple vehicles" and 17 other people get onto the Ranch? And where did those other vehicles go, if only one van was confiscated? Curious minds....

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