In a Thursday afternoon press conference to discuss what’s being called “an operation like no other in Santa Maria history,” multiple law enforcement agencies and other government officials gave the public an in-depth look at ‘Operation Matador.’
The months-long investigation resulted in a massive sweep in the early morning hours of March 3rd in which authorities arrested at least 12 individuals and detained about 40 others related to a recent string of violence, shootings and murders in Santa Maria. Many of the suspects taken into custody were turned over to ICE.
Multiple arrest warrants were executed simultaneously by over 150 police officers, deputies, and federal agents in Santa Barbara County, Ventura County, Kern County, and as far east as Columbus, Ohio.
Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin told a room full of reporters that all of the arrested suspects belonged to or were associates of the trans-national gang known as MS-13. Many of those suspects were from El Salvador or Honduras. The gang is known for its use of extreme violence.
Chief Martin also said that six homicides were prevented in the last four weeks in the city of Santa Maria thanks to the hard work of detectives and other agencies that have put in thousands of hours of work to eradicate criminal gangs in Santa Maria, but could not elaborate because that information and evidence was being presented to prosecution.
Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino called ‘Operation Matador’ an operation like no other in the City’s history and urged residents to do their part in keeping Santa Maria safe by reporting crimes and working with law enforcement. “Keep our city safe by doing your part. You have a responsibility,” Patino said.
“We don’t stand alone in this county when it comes to investigating, identifying and hunting down…those who commit evil deeds,” said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.
Authorities revealed that MS-13 had moved to Santa Maria about a year and a half ago and believe that the gang wanted to “own the town.” According to law enforcement, MS-13 has at least 50,000 members nationwide, some of which came to Santa Maria to set up shop for distribution of illegal narcotics.
Law enforcement and government officials consider ‘Operation Matador’ highly successful, and was initiated in response to the recent violence increase in the city of Santa Maria.
“The city of Santa Maria, and I know I speak for those who are from other cities here, will no longer be a city where MS-13 or any other street gang can live or engage in a career criminal enterprise,” said Chief Martin. “We know who they are, we know where they are, what vehicles they drive., who they associate with. We know what they had for lunch yesterday. This is only the beginning of our efforts to completely, unequivocally eradicate this organized group from existing in Santa Maria.”
The individuals arrested include:
Jose Bonilla-Mejia aka “Emedalio” ; “Lalo” – 27 years old arrested in the state of Ohio
Jose Mejia Orellano aka “Extrao” – 23 years old – arrested in Oxnard
Luis Mejia Orellana aka “Smiley” – 22 years old – arrested in Santa Maria
Juan Carlos Serrano Urbina aka “Peligro” – 27 years old – arrested in Santa Maria
Olvin Serrano aka “Catra” – 30 years old – arrested in Santa Maria
Enedina Tomas aka “Mimi” – 33 years old – arrested in Santa Maria
Rafael Castro Lainez – 30 years old – arrested in Bakersfield
Mayra Ortega aka “Linzii” – 24 years old – arrested in Santa Maria
Jose Balmore Lainez Saravia aka “Pancho” – 31 years old – arrested in Santa Maria
Jose Ricardo Saravia Lainez aka “Alex” – 24 years old – arrested in Santa Maria
Marcos Manuel Sanchez Torres aka “Silent” – 21 years old – arrested in Santa Maria Tranquilino Robles Morales aka “Bandit” – 28 years old – arrested in Santa Maria
Juan Carlos Lozano Membreno aka “Psycho” – 27 years old – arrested in Santa Maria
Jose Narciso Escobar Hernandez aka “El Cuervo” – 25 years old – arrested in Santa Maria.
Click Here to view the list and photos of the arrested.
Watch the full press conference below.VIDEO: Santa Maria ‘Operation Matador’ Full Press Conference