Nuesta Familia Gang Target of Salinas Sweep

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Dozens were arrested Tuesday -- including a Salinas business owner -- as part of a statewide gang sweep targeting high-ranking members of the Nuestra Familia gang.

    The arrests were made across the state as part of Operation Street Sweeper, a four-month investigation that Attorney General Jerry Brown said provided a crippling blow to the notorious prison gang that operates out of Pelican Bay State Prison.  Brown is running for governor of California as he served as AG.

    The sweep was part of a statewide operation ordered by Brown and involved 250 officers from various law enforcement agencies.

    Local, state and federal agents arrested 36 people believed to be members of the Nuestra Familia on drug trafficking charges, federal authorities said. More than 35 search warrants were also served during the operation.

    One of those arrested is Phillip Sparks. Salinas police arrested the 33-year-old early Tuesday at his Hollister home, where they uncovered thousands of dollars in cash, officers said.

    Police called Sparks, the owner of the Forbidden XTC adult novelty shop on Market Street in Salinas, a regimental commander of the Nuestra Familia.

    "He is one of the highest ranking guys outside of prison," said Salinas police spokesman Lalo Villegas.

    Officers conducted a search of the Forbidden XTC shop, but found nothing, police said.

    Police also arrested Armando Valle, 36, in Watsonville on Tuesday. Police said that Valle does not rank as high in the Nuestra Familia hierarchy as Sparks, but that he is a "major player."

    A third local person, Martin Martinez, 32, was arrested by Salinas police on Friday as part of the operation, authorities said.

    Salinas Police Chief Louis Fetherolf said Tuesday that the Salinas area is a major hub for the Nuestra Familia gang network.

    Twelve from the Central Valley were also indicted with distributing methamphetamine in Kings, Fresno, Kern, Tulare, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Sacramento and Monterey counties as part of the operation.

    Ten of those indicted on federal charges were arrested Tuesday morning, four remain fugitives and one was already in custody, authorities said.

    Operation Street Sweep was a joint investigation that included local law enforcements across the state, the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, DEA, FBI and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

    "Operation Street Sweeper represents a big step forward in reducing vicious street crimes orchestrated in prison by the Nuestra Familia hierarchy," Brown said. "Today's operation has stripped the dangerous Nuestra Familia gang of key managers who carry out orders from its imprisoned leaders."

    The Nuestra Familia gang was launched in Folsom Prison in 1968 and controls illegal activities inside several state prison as well as Nortenos gangs who operate in Central California and the Salinas-area, Brown's office said in a news release.

    Large gang sweeps like Operation Street Sweeper started in the Central Coast this year with Operation Knockout. In April, Operation Knockout netted 40 arrests of Salinas-area residents who were tied to gangs.

    Salinas police also assisted with Operation Tapout, a sweep that netted 24 arrests in the Central Valley.

    -- KSBW.com