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Raid nets 15 members of notorious street gang trying to "set up - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Raid nets 15 members of notorious street gang trying to "set up shop" in Santa Maria

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More than a dozen suspected gang members are under arrest, following an overnight raid called "Operation Matador" led by the Santa Maria Police Department.

The operation involved 150 police officers, sheriff's deputies and federal agents. The arrests were made in Ohio, Oxnard and Bakersfield, but the majority, 8, in Santa Maria.

Search warrants were served at 12 locations Thursday at 3am. Along with 15 arrests, another 40 were detained, most of which were handed over to customs agents. They are all reportedly from Honduras and El Salvador.

They are all also reportedly part of the MS-13 gang, or Mara Salvatrucha, a notoriously violent transnational gang out of El Salvador with 50,000+ members, spanning 40 U.S. states and now starting turf wars in Santa Maria.

"They are very organized, they're in the drug trade and they came to Santa Maria to set up shop," said Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin, adding they've been active in Santa Maria for the past year and a half and it's no coincidence violent crime has been on the rise ever since. "They're responsible for the vast majority of murders the past year," he said.

Martin says MS-13 is targeting local gang members and trying to send a message that this is their town now, but Chief Martin has a message of his own. "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."

Flanked by local and federal agencies at a press conference, they all vow this is only the beginning of taking down MS-13.
     
"Look behind me, we don't stand alone," said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown with representatives from all agencies involved standing behind him.

Chief Martin says more murders were prevented during this months long investigation. "Six homicides were prevented in the past four weeks," he said.

He wouldn't go into detail about what murders MS-13 is responsible for, but the chief did say the murder of Oscar Joaquin could have been the catalyst that started the violence. He hopes to find out more through questioning.

Those arrested face charges of conspiracy to commit murder, being part of a criminal street gang and carrying a concealed weapon.

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