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3,000 Pounds of Pot In Panga; 13 Arrested

Early Saturday morning, officials with the U.S. Coast Guard spotted and seized a panga boat, leading to the arrest and charging of 13 individuals for smuggling nearly 3,000 pounds of marijuana with intent to distribute, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Coast Guard officials made the first observation of the vessel at Arroyo Quemada Beach in south Santa Barbara County, according to court documents cited in a Department of Justice (DOJ) release. Running smuggling boats at night is a common tactic used to attempt to avoid detection.

Based on statements from authorities, it is believed that about 15 people unloaded bales of marijuana from the boat, which held about three more suspected smugglers. The bales were loaded into a van and a pickup truck. The two vehicles went in separate directions, but were both stopped. Between them, authorities seized 114 bales of the drug.

“Smuggling by panga boat endangers the lives of both the smugglers and authorities interdicting the boats and their payloads,” United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker said, according to the DOJ. “Law enforcement has and will continue to use all available means to curtail this dangerous activity.”

Charged in the case are: Hector Raul Bernal-Lara, 41; Ricardo Sanchez-Marquez, 36; Daniel Aguilar, 25; Mark Garcia, 23; Susana Tobaldo, 42; Kevin Tes, 22; Josh Rubio, 21; Alfonso Aguilar-Ballestros, 48; Jesus Moreno-Sepulveda, 31; Santiago Galvan-Carrillo, 48; Paul Armenta-Bueno, 34; Bryan Castro, 18; and Daniel Fernando-Huizar, 26.

The 13 were charged on Sunday and scheduled for initial court appearance on Monday.

The Department of Justice stated, “The statutory maximum penalty for a violation of possession nearly 3,000 pounds of marijuana with the intent to distribute it is life in prison.”

Panga boats are often used to smuggle both drugs and people off the California coast from Mexico into the United States. Last August smugglers and illegal aliens were arrested in two separate known attempts to smuggle humans into the U.S. Boat occupants included citizens of Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico.

Photo: file

Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana

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