Three locals caught in drug trafficking sweep
by Jon Mendelson / Tracy Press
May 17, 2012 | 10073 views | 7 7 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Three local men — two from Tracy and one from Mountain House — were arrested Wednesday, May 16, in a Drug Enforcement Administration sweep that focused on a city business suspected of selling grow supplies to a larger drug-trafficking ring operating in the region.

Todd Becerra, 38, and Joseph Mirante, 40, both of Tracy, and Shawn Thompson, 43, of Mountain House, were among 19 people arrested as part of what DEA Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams described in a press release Wednesday as a “large-scale marijuana trafficking organization.”

Williams reported that the DEA found 14 marijuana-growing setups in San Joaquin and several Bay Area counties and confiscated 3,606 plants, 96 pounds of processed marijuana valued at $1 million, 36 firearms, a 37mm grenade launcher, eight vehicles, five motorcycles, five boats and about $400,000 in cash.

According to the release, police believe that Steven Ortega Sr., 50, of Byron, and Steven Ortega Jr., 25, of Discovery Bay are the leaders of a drug trafficking ring in which people were willing to grow marijuana in exchange for profit sharing.

Police accused the pair of having two storefronts, Grower’s Choice Hydroponics at 470 W. Larch Road in Tracy and another in Hayward, furnish the grow operation with supplies form the businesses.

The stores are owned by Ortega Sr. and 57-year-old Byron resident Marla Ortega, who was also arrested in the sweep, according to the release. The relation between the pair is unknown.

Anthony Winter, who identified himself as co-owner of the Tracy Grower’s Choice, said the 3-year-old business in Tracy is simply a place for locals to buy indoor gardening supplies and accessories.

“We’re just a regular store that’s serving the community,” said Winter from behind the counter of the store, which was open for business Thursday, May 17.

Winter said the store doesn’t sell marijuana, seeds or anything else related to the illegal use or growing of the plant. A tour of the shop revealed various kinds of fertilizer, pesticides and equipment for indoor gardening.

The DEA release stated, “Many of the operations were set up with sophisticated lighting, water irrigation, ventilation and air-filtration systems.”

Neighbors said they weren’t aware of any illicit activity at Grower’s Choice.

Jason Quilantang, who works in the same strip of commercial spaces as a graphic designer, said it looks like “just a normal business.”

He said Grower’s Choice contracted his workplace, Sign-A-Rama, for work and paid all bills on time.

The Tracy Police Department was one of numerous agencies that partnered with the DEA to conduct the investigation and sweep.

According to Tracy Chief Gary Hampton, investigators worked with the federal agency for more than a year.

“Over the past 12 months, we’ve consistently had an investigative team working on this,” he said.

Hampton added that this week’s bust had nothing to do with a June 2011 sweep in Tracy that led to the arrest of nearly 30 affiliated gang members.

The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office and San Joaquin Metropolitan Narcotics Task Force also helped with the search and investigation, according to the DEA.

Capt. John Espinoza, who oversees special investigations in the Tracy department, said the DEA approached the Tracy agency to help track down the ring that Espinoza said was “part of a larger network of activity.”

Suspects were also arrested in Oakley, Rio Vista, Fresno, Livermore, Salida, Brentwood, Fremont and Patterson.

Espinoza added that four federal search warrants were served in Tracy on Wednesday.

The defendants were scheduled to appear Thursday in Sacramento Federal Court on various charges of manufacturing marijuana and conspiracy, but results of the hearings were not available as of press time.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
May 18, 2012

Don't you think we have enough legal drugs? Furthermore, don't you think sobriety is so much superior to sedation?

Do you have something to hide?

What is the point of life if a civilized people have to continually legalize drugs so people can get through it?

I don't know anyone who smokes marijuana. We have better things to do.
May 18, 2012
'The FAA projects that 30,000 government spy-drones could be in the nation's skies by 2020'

May 18, 2012
I know tons. I am not one of them. The stuff does not agree with me. But there are maybe even more than you think who do so. I would rather come up against a pothead than a drunk any day. All the people who I know who smoke are normal high functioning people who work and pay their bills - even if they are "addicted". They may smoke for many different reason. To relax, socially or as medication. Marijuana is actually preferable over alcohol and/or prescription drugs, which are all inherently more dangerous.

Yes I believe sobriety is superior. But I also think marijuana is superior to alcohol and many prescription drugs and so do many doctors, scientists etc. Our legal system needs to catch up. It should be legalized, regulated and taxed.

I have never heard of anyone dying from smoking weed. Yet you hear everyday about someone dying from too much alcohol, driving while drunk or overdose on prescription drugs.
May 18, 2012

What is your definition of a "normal, high (is this a pun) functioning" individual?

I always tell people this: just because someone has a job doesn't me I want him living next to me.

It isn't about dying from weed.

Also, I know smoking marijuana is ubiquitous. I smoked it before, but I like being sober. Peak experiences aren't about sedation. This isn't about comparing alcohol with marijuana. This is about facing up to a degraded culture where so many people are at-risk of a lifetime of sedation. Why make it easier? Furthermore, if we really wanted to win the supposed war on drugs, we could. The fact is, we don't. Too many interventionists are employed to rehabilitate the squandered soul. This perverse cycle keeps the economy going.

Remember, the thrust of our economy is based on benightedness, not virtue.
May 17, 2012
Much adoo about nothing. What you're reading here mimics newspaper articles circa the Prohibition era when a liquor-making op got busted. Is SOP for the DEA to vastly overstate the value of the weed in question to make their bust look good. Seriously folks America is damn close to Germany circa 1939 and we've got men wearing badges who'd joyfully work for Adolph Hitler. And now we're getting military-grade flying drones overhead so these scum buckets can spy on our every move. Golly the DEA busted some guys selling weed. Call me unimpressed. You want to go after something,go after meth. Go after heroin. Go after the Zetas and the cartels all of which are firmly entrenched thruout America. But that would be dangerous and politically incorrect given the present administration would'nt it.
May 18, 2012
So you're cool with people running around with grenade launchers?
May 18, 2012
Sorry but this is a nonsense response. I dont know about the value of the weed but with 3096 plants and 96 lbs of weed these guys were not growing for personal use. They are clearly a large scale criminal organization and they deserve whatever they get. If you dont want to do the time then dont do the crime. Comparing the situation to nazi germany is so far off base I am not sure where to even start on that statement. All I can say is I dont seen 6 million potheads being sent to the gas chambers. What do military drones have to do with the price of beans in China? I thought the article was about a weed bust. As for the Zetas and cartels, how do you know these guys are not working hand in hand with them?

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