For the past six months, the Salinas Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations, in collaboration with the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, conducted an in-depth investigation into Nor Cal Transportation, a Salinas-based trucking company. This investigation revealed that Nor Cal Transportation, in concert with the Sinaloa Cartel, trafficked narcotics— fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine— from Mexico into the United States, including narcotics shipments destined for Monterey County. During this investigation, officers seized 50 lbs. of methamphetamine, 8 lbs. heroin, and 24,000 prescription pills that contained fentanyl.
The collective street value of the seized narcotics exceeded $1,000,000. This investigation also revealed an active murder conspiracy amongst Nor Cal Transportation traffickers that targeted a Monterey County resident.
Simply put, this investigation saved lives. Methamphetamine overdoses have plagued our community for decades. Heroin and fentanyl overdoses sustain the ongoing opioid epidemic that persists throughout the country. In 2019, the most recent year with full statistics, nearly 50,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses. (1) Overdose deaths in 2019 involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl were nearly 12 times higher than in 2013. (2) A key component of the opioid epidemic is narcotics traffickers flooding communities with heroin and prescription drugs that look like legitimate prescription pills, but, like the 24,000 pills seized in this investigation, contain fentanyl. (3) Fentanyl is deadly in very small doses, often one laced pill. A lethal dose can also be accidentally inhaled or absorbed through skin contact. (3) This danger is not hypothetical, in recent years communities throughout Monterey County have seen an uptick in tragic overdose deaths caused by heroin and the very same type of pills seized in this investigation.
The results of this investigation mark a blow to those who put profit over life and makes clear law enforcement’s commitment to reversing the tide of the opioid epidemic and holding its perpetrator’s accountable for the lives they choose to imperil.
The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office appreciates the efforts of the Salinas Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, and allied agencies that assisted in this investigation, search warrants, and arrests.
Monterey County Cannabis Enforcement Unit Destroys Over Eighteen Tons Of Illegal Contaminated Cannabis
September 7, 2021
Monterey, California- Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine M. Pacioni announced today that the District Attorney’s Office’s Bureau of Investigations, in cooperation with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Monterey County of Public Works, and other state and local agencies (“Monterey County Cannabis Enforcement Unit”), has continued its enforcement efforts against the unlicensed cannabis industry. Over the last 30 days, the Monterey County Cannabis Enforcement Unit conducted nine cannabis enforcement operations targeting unlicensed cannabis cultivations in northern, central, and southern Monterey County. In these joint operations, law enforcement eradicated and destroyed over eighteen tons of harmful, illegal cannabis. These enforcement operations will continue throughout the remainder of the growing season.
Investigations into these illegal operations are active and ongoing.
The Monterey County Cannabis Enforcement Unit has participated in many joint operations this year targeting illegal cannabis cultivators, processors, distributors, and unlicensed laboratories. One of the primary purposes of these enforcement efforts is to eliminate dangerous cannabis products from the black market.
Under California law, for cannabis to be sold legally at licensed retailers, all cannabis batches must undergo a series of laboratory tests to ensure product purity, potency, and safety. Cannabis is tested for over 100 contaminants, including pesticides, toxins, and heavy metals. However, unlike in the legal market, cannabis sold on the black market does not undergo testing and often is contaminated with mold, pesticides, and other harmful toxins.
During joint operations, the Monterey County Cannabis Enforcement Team randomly samples the illegal cannabis and sends the samples to a licensed cannabis laboratory for testing using the same legal standards applicable to licensed retailers. Preliminary data shows that approximately 90% of illegal cannabis seized during these operations has failed official laboratory testing due to contamination. In cooperation with other county and state agencies, the Monterey County District Attorney’s office will release the official results of this testing to the public later this year.
The District Attorney’s Office is committed to protecting consumers in Monterey County by eliminating harmful illegal cannabis from the illegal market.
District Attorney Announce $4 Million Consumer Protection Settlement With “Pace” Program Administrator Renovate America, Inc.
August 26, 2019
People v. Renovate America, Inc.; Case No. RIC 1904068
Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine M. Pacioni announced today that her office and six other prosecutors’ offices across California have obtained a $4 million settlement with Renovate America, Inc., resolving claims the company violated state consumer protection laws.
Under a program known as the “Property Assessed Clean Energy” program, or “PACE” California property owners have the option of financing the installation of energy efficiency projects, such as solar panels by placing liens on their properties and paying off the liens along with their property tax assessments. Renovate America, Inc., is a San Diego-based company that administers PACE programs on behalf of public agencies under the name “The Home Energy Renovation Opportunity” program, or “HERO”. Renovate America is a designated administrator of PACE programs in several California counties and has trained a large number of local contractors who enroll with Renovate America and offer these energy projects to the public.
The complaint filed in Riverside County Superior Court alleges that advertising and promoting by Renovate America of its HERO program misrepresented the program or failed to make adequate disclosures to avoid misleading consumers, including:
• that the HERO financing program was government affiliated or subsidized;
• the nature of the tax deductibility of HERO assessments;
• key facts about the transferability of HERO assessments to subsequent property owners in the sale of properties subject to HERO liens;
• the costs of financing under the program; and
• the nature of the policy of “verifying” contractors to work on HERO-related projects
Many property owners throughout California may have been influenced by these misrepresentations or inadequate disclosures when they chose to finance energy efficiency projects with Renovate America, learning the full facts about these lien obligations only later when attempting to sell or refinance their
homes. This caused unanticipated budget problems or disrupted home sales for a number of these consumers.
Renovate America and its counsel worked cooperatively with the prosecuting agencies to reach this settlement which marks the culmination of nearly three years of investigation and negotiations. During that time the company enacted numerous consumer protection measures to meet the business practice standards sought by prosecutors, spending millions of dollars to implement those new policies and to resolve problems with fees and lien subordination. Prosecutors also noted that the practices in question occurred at Renovate America under previous management.
The court-approved settlement prohibits Renovate America from making these misrepresentations or inadequate disclosures of important consumer facts. For example, Renovate America must establish a strict compliance program to ensure that customers, particularly elderly customers, understand the terms of the HERO program and the potential impact of these lien obligations on their budget and home plans.
Under the terms of the judgment, which was entered without admission of liability, Renovate America will pay $2.79 million to provide funding for legal assistance for consumers with PACE-related legal and financing issues. Renovate America must also pay a total of $1.21 million in civil penalties and investigative costs.
Consumers seeking legal advice regarding their rights and potential remedies are encouraged to contact the Consumer Protection Division of this Office to request to participate in the legal assistance program provided by the terms of the judgment.
This case was jointly prosecuted by Monterey, Riverside, San Diego, Kern, Napa and Santa Cruz District Attorney’s Offices and the San Diego City Attorney’s Office. The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office participates in cases such as this to make sure that businesses comply with their legal responsibilities to consumers.
Five Suspects Charged With Murder During First Year Of Monterey County District Attorney’s Office Cold Case Task Force
August 25, 2021
SALINAS, California- The victims included a mother found murdered in her Carmel home in 1981, a 22-year-old man ambushed and shot to death in Seaside in 1995, a father and local business owner fatally shot in Salinas in 1999, a 20-year-old man shot in King City in 2016 after being mistaken for a gang member, and a 31-year-old King City man murdered in front of his wife and children in 2017. For years, their murders were unresolved. Within the past year, five people have been arrested and charged in relation to those crimes.
In July 2020, District Attorney Jeannine M. Pacioni implemented the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office Cold Case Task Force, an inter-agency working group designed to assist local agencies with investigating, resolving, and prosecuting their unsolved homicide cases. The Task Force consists of multiple veteran investigators and a deputy district attorney. The Task Force collaborates with the original investigating agency to review cases, develop investigative strategies, conduct witness interviews, do background research, and facilitate the submission or re-submission of items for potential DNA and other scientific testing. With the support and assistance of the local chiefs of police, the Task Force has collaborated with eight local law-enforcement agencies on one or multiple unsolved cases. In the last year, the Task Force has reviewed more than 30 different homicide cases occurring between 1974 and 2018.
The Task Force will collaborate with detectives on any case upon the request of the investigating agency. The Task Force aims to increase inter-agency collaboration, combine the talents and expertise of multiple investigators to examine unresolved cases with fresh eyes, and to demonstrate to the citizens of Monterey County that these victims and their cases have not been forgotten despite the passage of time.
Since April 2021, the District Attorney’s Office has filed murder charges in the following cases:
• The murder of 30-year-old Sonia Herok-Stone in Carmel on October 15, 1981;
• The murder of 22-year-old Lloyd “LJ” Perkins Jr. in Seaside on September 21, 1995;
• The murder of 39-year-old Elias Gutierrez Diaz in Salinas on November 19, 1999;
• The murder of 20-year-old Martin Heredia in King City on June 17, 2016;
• The murder of 31-year-old Hipolito Cruz Carreno in King City on March 4, 2017.
All of the charged suspects are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Court proceedings in all five cases are currently pending.
The Task Force has also worked with local agencies to select cases with potential forensic evidence that could be tested or re-tested to identify a potential suspect or suspects. Evidence from multiple cases is currently being tested at the California Department of Justice Crime Laboratory and other private laboratories.
Further information on the Task Force is available at https://www.co.monterey.ca.us/government/departments-a-h/district-attorney/cold-case-task-force.
If you have information relating to an unsolved homicide, you may contact Chief Ryan McGuirk at McGuirkRJ@co.monterey.ca.us or Investigator Bill Clark at ClarkB@co.monterey.ca.us.
District Attorney Pacioni Announces Launch Of The Multi-Cultural Community Council of Monterey County
June 07, 2021
SALINAS, California- Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine M. Pacioni announced today that she has created a Multi-Cultural Community Council (MCCC), comprised of a diverse group of community leaders from throughout Monterey County, who volunteer their time and expertise to educate, promote and engage in tough conversations to increase intercultural relationship and understanding.
The initial members include Chris Barrera (President-LULAC #2055), Pastor Anthony Dunham (Friendship Baptist Church of Seaside), Deacon Warren Hoy (Monterey Diocese), Barbara Mitchell (Executive Director, Interim, Inc.), Dr. Carissa Purnell (Director, Alisal Family Resource Centers for the Alisal Union School District), and Yvonne Thomas (President- NAACP Monterey County).
The members will function as a collaborative advisory council to DA Pacioni on matters concerning different cultural/faith groups, law enforcement and the community at large. Members are appointed by DA Pacioni in consultation with MCCC Co-Chairs.
The mission of the MCCC is to seek fair and equal justice, ensure open communications, inclusive community participation, and to offer education on the criminal justice system. In the process, we hope to engender trust and provide transparency that strengthens intercultural connections and relationships within our county.
Los Angeles County Couple Sentenced For Poaching Succulents From Garrapata State Park
February 01, 2019
People v. Guanrong Rivera; Case No. 18CR009464
People v. Jose Luis Rivera; Case No. 18CR009465
SALINAS, California- Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine M. Pacioni announced today that on January 31, Guanrong Rivera, 49, and Jose Luis Rivera, 64, were sentenced for illegally poaching succulents off the coast of Garrapata State Park. Monterey County Superior Court Judge Rafael Vazquez presided.
On May 5, 2018, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office received a tip that a woman and a man had climbed up a cliff on the coastal side of Highway 1 in Garrapata State Park and were loading bags of succulents, Dudleya farinosas, into the back of their vehicle. The reporting party confronted the two, later identified as Guanrong and Jose Rivera, who laughed and acknowledged that they knew the activity was illegal. Before the Riveras headed south, the reporting party took a picture of suspects, their vehicle, and license plate. The Sheriff’s Office referred the matter to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (“CDFW”).
The license plate number led CDFW to a residence in Palmdale, California. CDFW wildlife wardens conducted surveillance of the residence, where they observed Guanrong Rivera walking in and out of her garage taking over 100 photographs of what appeared to be Dudleyas on her driveway. Some of the succulents had white tags.
On May 10, 2018, CDFW wardens served a search warrant at the Rivera residence. Approximately 600 Dudleyas were found inside the garage. Ms. Rivera, who was at the residence, stated that she had taken succulents from the Big Sur area on their recent vacation to Carmel and that she had intended to sell them to customers in China. The wardens called Mr. Rivera, who also admitted to taking succulents on their recent trip to Carmel. The Dudleyas were transported to UC Santa Cruz to be evaluated to be returned to the wild.
Cameras seized during the search warrant revealed photographs of Ms. Rivera harvesting Dudleyas next to the coast and posing with the uprooted plants.
A search of Ms. Rivera’s phone revealed “We Chat” messages between her and someone who appeared to identify as Ms. Rivera’s niece. The messages were in Mandarin and was later professionally translated. In the messages, the two appeared to be conspiring to sell illegally- harvested California succulents to customers in China. Conversations included concerns about getting the plants by customs, website management, pricing, and plans to visit other locations in California to harvest more succulents based on their customers’ demands. A message from the niece stated, “From the article regarding the Koreans arrested, I learned that Dudleya farinose usually grows in wildness in northern California.” This message was likely referencing the three Korean nationals who were arrested for illegally poaching Dudleyas in California in April 2018.
In another message, the niece asked whether Ms. Rivera had shipped the goods. Ms. Rivera responded with a picture of a receipt and customs form. The customs form had listed the contents of the package as “Make-up Vitamin,” instead of Dudleyas, a practice commonly used by wildlife smugglers. Other messages included conversations with customers.
On January 15, 2019, Jose Luis Rivera entered a no contest plea to illegally taking plants from Garrapata State Park, a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 40 days in the county jail, three years of informal probation, a $4,018 fine, and ordered to stay away from all national and state parks within the State of California.
Today, Guanrong Rivera entered no contest pleas to grand theft, a felony; vandalism, a felony; and illegally taking plants from Garrapata State park, a misdemeanor. She was immediately sentenced to three years of formal probation and ordered to serve 179 days in the county jail, pay a $9,999.90 fine, pay a $10,000 contribution to CDFW, pay restitution to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, forfeit all seized succulents, and to stay away from all national and state parks within the State of California. The Riveras may serve their jail sentences under an alternative program if eligible.
The case was investigated by CDFW’s Special Operations Unit.
The public is encouraged to turn in poachers and polluters by calling 1-888-334-CalTIP. CalTIP (Californians Turn In Poachers and Polluters) is an anonymous tip program that helps the California Department of Fish and Wildlife protect the state’s fish and wildlife resources. More information about CalTIP is found here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/enforcement/caltip.
Woman Convicted of Leaving Baby To Drown in Bathtub, Hiding Body Sentenced to 9 Years
A woman convicted of leaving her newborn baby to drown in a bathtub and hiding its body beneath her Seaside home for two years was sentenced to nine years in prison today in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas.
Two men arrested for alleged human trafficking after rescue of 14-year-old girl in Salinas.
What Salinas Police thought was a disturbance on Super Bowl Sunday on Kern Street turned out to be a dramatic rescue of a 14-year-old girl by her family from the clutches of two men officials say trafficked at least eight girls between the ages of 14 and 18.