Suspects arrested in San Mateo panga pot bust face federal charges 

Nine people accused of hauling more than 5,000 pounds of marijuana off of a boat from Mexico that landed at a San Mateo County beach earlier this month are now facing federal drug smuggling charges, according to court records.

Charges by the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office were dismissed Wednesday after a federal criminal complaint filed in San Francisco on Tuesday charged them with possession of and conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of marijuana.

Five of the defendants had already pleaded no contest to the state charges and were sentenced to one year in jail, but the federal charges carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.

If the defendants are convicted of the federal charges, whether their jail sentence for the state charges would be served concurrently with the federal sentence will be up to the federal sentencing judge, San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Al Serrato said Thursday.

The defendants were arrested Aug. 1 after an investigation by federal authorities indicated that a boat smuggling marijuana from Mexico would be landing on the San Mateo County coast to unload.

The 40-foot panga boat was one of three tracked by the Coast Guard since July 28, according to a federal affidavit by Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Patrick Jones.

The Coast Guard stopped two of the vessels the next day and seized fuel from one and 12,000 pounds of pot from the other. They continued tracking the third, suspecting it might land in Año Nuevo State Park in Pescadero.

Homeland Security agents kept the area around the beach under surveillance and on the night of Aug. 1, they saw a crew arrive in a U-Haul and light off three bottle rockets near the shoreline, apparently signaling the boat at sea.

The crew then drove the U-Haul back to the beach at about 10:15 p.m. but when it returned, they found the way out blocked by an unmarked law enforcement vehicle, according to Jones.

The driver crashed the U-Haul through a fence to get out and sped away with numerous law enforcement vehicles pursuing him.

Luis Espinoza Mendoza, 28, was identified as the driver of the van and was arrested. Authorities reportedly found the van loaded with bales of marijuana.

The agents searched the beach area and arrested Luis Farid Gonzalez, 20, Mario Gonzalez, 36, Estaban Flores Salazar, 39, Joan Sicairos, 19, and Mark Richard Teixeira, 38.

Three other men later arrested included Juan Valdez Lopez, 50, Juan Hernandez, 39, and Phin Yo Vorn, 33, authorities said.

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