Eight of nine defendants arrested in San Mateo panga boat pot bust arraigned 

click to enlarge Panga boat
  • AP Photo/ San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office
  • A panga boat, similar to this one discovered in San Simeon earlier this summer, was discovered adrift off the coast of San Mateo County on Friday.

Eight of nine people arrested Friday in connection with an international marijuana smuggling attempt were arraigned Monday on charges of possession for sale and transportation of marijuana in San Mateo County, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

The nine defendants -- four of which are from Mexico, three from San Jose and two from San Diego -- were arrested after Homeland Security agents notified the county's Narcotics Task Force that marijuana "panga" boats might be landing off the coast.

The group was allegedly found transferring the pot into two vans at a San Mateo County state beach.

About 10:15 p.m., two large vans reportedly entered Año Nuevo State Beach and met the panga boat that came ashore there, Wagstaffe said.

The defendants are then alleged to have transferred 180 bales of marijuana from the boat into the van, Wagstaffe said.

As the van entered state Highway 1, country law enforcement agents stopped it and discovered 5,148 pounds of marijuana in the vehicle, with a street value of about $23 million, Wagstaffe said.

On the beach, agents found an inflatable raft, rain gear and cellphones. The panga boat was discovered adrift by a local fisherman and recovered by the Coast Guard.

The nine defendants are: Luis Farid Gonzalez, 20; Mario Gonzalez, 36; Juan Hernandez, 39; Juan Valdez Lopez, 50; Luis Espinoza Mendoza, 28; Estaban Flores Salazar, 39; Joan Sicairos, 19; Mark Richard Teixeira, 38; and Phin Yo Vorn, 33.

Eight of the nine defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday, and Mario Gonzalez was expected to enter a plea Tuesday.

This is not the first time the coast of San Mateo County was used by alleged smugglers bringing in drugs from south of the border.

In May, an abandoned boat and SUV that both contained marijuana were discovered on Pescadero State Beach by sheriff's deputies. At least 42 bales of the drug were discovered between the two vehicles.

In April, an empty and abandoned panga boat was discovered off the coast of Pescadero. No suspects were found at the time of those discoveries.

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