Torrance's meth crackdown
By Larry Altman, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 07/13/2008 10:46:41 PM PDT

An 18-month police covert operation to decapitate the methamphetamine trade in Torrance has shut down the top four suppliers, put 208 people in jail, seized nearly $3.5 million in drugs and confiscated 107 guns, police said last week.

The Torrance Police Department surveillance operation was conducted so secretly, most of the law enforcement agency's officers had no idea it was under way.

"It was a hard secret to keep," Torrance police Lt. Steve D'anjou said.

Dubbed "Operation Accountability," the police investigation worked quietly out of a nondescript Torrance warehouse. It resulted in the service of 83 search warrants and 42 parole and probation searches. Fifteen children were removed from suspected drug traffickers' homes, and 14 alleged felons face deportation, police said.

In addition, officers took nearly $450,000 cash from suspected drug dealers, found $100,000 in stolen property, recovered five stolen cars and located four explosives.

"It was affecting the entire South Bay," an undercover officer involved in the operation said.

so-called quality-of-life issues, took on the local methamphetamine trade after determining its sale and users were the root causes behind numerous crimes in the city, including burglaries and robberies, child and elder abuse, identity theft and credit card fraud. They were also responsible for the breakdown of families and declines in property values.
Officers said 90 percent of drug-related crimes in the city involved methamphetamine, and much of their actions started with residents'

Torrance Police conducted "Operation Accountability" in an effort to decrease crime due to methamphetamine and other drug activity in the South Bay. Photos were taken as evidence in cases. (Robert Casillas/Staff Photographer)complaints about possible criminal activity at homes in their neighborhoods.
Starting from the bottom after arresting addicts, officers worked their way up the chain to find the importers who brought the drugs in from manufacturers in Mexico.

"We targeted all the Torrance residences first and then hit the drug supply," the officer said.

They discovered four primary networks that delivered methamphetamine to Torrance for dozens and dozens of addicts to purchase:

A West Torrance route allegedly run by Downey resident Noe Martinez, 33, received methamphetamine from Mexico through an importer in Riverside and delivered it to lower level dealers in the South Bay, police said.
Methamphetamine made its way to Torrance dealers in the 4700 block of 191st Street. They, in turn, supplied it to sellers in the 4500 block of Narrot Street; the 4000 block of 182nd Street; and the 2800 block of Winlock Road, police said.

Drugs also made their way to dealers in the 2300 block of 190th Street in Redondo Beach and the 1600 block of 134th Street in Gardena.

Police arrested 20 suspects, seized more than 3 pounds of methamphetamine and confiscated $160,000 in cash related to the Martinez distribution route.

A downtown Torrance route brought Mexican methamphetamine into Wilmington for distribution in the Harbor Area and to Torrance's La Rana Street gang and its spinoff Wicked Riders for sales to addicts in Torrance.
The distribution allegedly was led by Sergio Diaz, 19, and Ricky Sisneros Sr., 45, out of residences in the 900 block of Sartori Avenue and the 2300 block of Del Amo Boulevard.

The investigation resulted in seven arrests and the seizure of numerous assault rifles, police said.

A downtown Torrance route that brought Mexican methamphetamine to an alleged importer identified as Steve Grageda, 39, of San Pedro and to a suspected "crash pad" in the 2300 block of Apple Avenue, four other Torrance addresses and locations in Lomita, Harbor Gateway and Carson.
Dozens of addicts received their methamphetamine through this route, police said.

Officers said the Apple residence was a "revolving door" for drug sales and resulted in numerous calls from upset neighbors complaining about the traffic coming and going from the house.

Police said they watched Grageda allegedly engage in numerous drug deals.

"He's looking at a substantial amount of time in state prison," the officer said.

A south Torrance route that brought Mexican methamphetamine to the Wilmington residence of alleged regional distributor Julio Cesar Angel, 23, suspected of supplying the drug to addresses in the 2800 and 3200 blocks of Winlock Road in Torrance.
The network included four other Torrance homes, the Knolls Lodge on Western Avenue, and numerous other street level dealers, police said.

Police said identity theft crimes were also committed through the Winlock residence.

A west and north Torrance route that brought methamphetamine from Sinaloa, Mexico, delivered it to distributors at two locations in Paramount and distributed it to alleged supplier Mirco Rodriguez, 39, through locations in Bellflower and Lawndale.
The drug next went to dealers at four Torrance locations. One of the addresses involved was the home of Russell Powell, a Torrance man arrested in February when police discovered more than 40 weapons in his home in the 19700 block of Tomlee Avenue.

Officers made 13 arrests, and seized 18 kilos of cocaine, 4 pounds of methamphetamine, a one-quarter-pound of heroin, $148,000 cash and 43 guns during their investigation of that distribution route, police said.

The leaders of the four groups were charged with possession of methamphetamine for sales and trafficking.

Rodriguez remains jailed on $2.2 million bail; Grageda, Martinez and Angel are held without bail; Diaz is held on $1.5 million bail; Sisneros is held on $425,000 bail.

An undercover sergeant said the operation has had a "significant impact" on methamphetamine sales in the area.

Officers said the investigation changed the way police in the past dealt with methamphetamine sales. Officers formerly focused on the addicts instead of the people at the top.

The users ended up receiving little jail time and wound up back on the street buying from the major dealers.

Calling it "focus-based policing," Chief John Neu ordered the officers to attack the methamphetamine problem relentlessly, D'anjou said.

The lead officers joined with patrol officers to identify homes linked to the drug-activity and target the people supplying the drug to them.

Instead of patrol officers arresting addicts and moving on to the next call, the officers kept investigating, seeking out where the drugs originated and working their way up the chain, D'anjou said.

As a result, beat officers became more proficient in investigations, learning how to investigate cases, write search warrants and prosecute criminals, police said.

Officers said they know new dealers are attempting to slide into the positions to replace those under arrest.

Investigators won't let up.

"We're coming after you," one of the undercover officers said. "It's not going to stop."

The insidious scourge of meth is imported from Mexico. I am proud of our brave men and women fighting the battle against illegals and their illicit drug campaign here in America.