Los Angeles, California - Thirteen defendants made their initial appearance in federal court Monday to face drug smuggling charges following the interdiction in southern Santa Barbara County over the weekend of a Mexican panga carrying nearly 3,000 pounds of marijuana.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), along with the sheriff’s departments of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, are investigating the incident which began unfolding early Saturday morning. According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, the U.S. Coast Guard first spotted the vessel at Arroyo Quemada Beach just north of the city of Santa Barbara. Authorities believe three people were piloting the boat, and approximately 15 individuals were observed on shore helping to unload the bales of marijuana.

The affidavit states that two vans and a pick-up truck drove to the beach separately, and bales of marijuana were loaded into the pick-up and one of the vans. The vehicles then left the beach at about the same time, but they went in different directions. One van, which was being used to transport the marijuana, was stopped in Camarillo; the second van, which was being used to transport people, was stopped when it returned to Arroyo Quemada Beach; and the truck, which was also being used to transport marijuana, was stopped in Carpinteria. All told, law enforcement seized 114 bales of marijuana weighing in excess of 2,800 pounds from the two vehicles.

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

The 13 defendants, who are named in a criminal complaint filed Sunday charging them with possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, include:

  • 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 charges detailed in the complaint carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. 

 A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection – Border Patrol also provided substantial assistance with the enforcement action.