Members of Major California Meth Ring Get Prison

Published: 14 June 2023

U.S. Department of Justice headquarters August 12 2006 copyThe U.S. Justice Department. (Photo: Coolcaesar, Wikimedia, License)

By Vinicius Madureira

Federal prosecutors in Fresno said Monday that two individuals connected to California gangs have been sentenced to years in prison related to charges of drug sales and unlawful possession of an automatic weapon.

Angel Montes was sentenced to more than 11 years for facilitating the distribution of drugs and the collection of proceeds, while Eric Mercado received two years and half for illegal possession of a machine gun.

Their arrests took place during a 2019 operation, which targeted members of the Nuestra Familia prison gang and the Norteño street gang. The raids unfolded across various California counties, including Tulare, where the county's sheriff praised it, at the time, as a victory for the righteous.

Montes and Mercado pleaded guilty in 2022 to drug trafficking offenses.

The U.S. authorities say the Nuestra Familia has been engaged in significant drug trafficking, particularly involving methamphetamine and other substances. The gang’s criminal activities include murders and assaults throughout California’s prison system, where the group is seen as one of the most dangerous behind bars.

Court documents revealed that Nuestra Familia top-ranking members communicated among themselves and with the outside world through contraband cell phones from inside Pleasant Valley State Prison in Fresno County.

Members of the gang used the phones to organize the transportation of illicit narcotics from drug sources in California and Mexico to a stash house in Kings County.

From there, gang members outside the prison coordinated the preparation and delivery of the drugs to distributors throughout Kings and Tulare Counties.

Earlier this year, another member of Nuestra Familia was sentenced to over two decades in prison for distributing methamphetamine. He conspired with fellow criminals, leveraging his Cadillac Escalade as collateral to secure the drugs.

One more member of Nuestra Familia awaits his sentence. Having pleaded guilty to the distribution of methamphetamine, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of life imprisonment and a fine of up to US$10 million.