REDWOOD CITY -- Nine suspected drug traffickers pleaded not guilty to felony charges Monday after San Mateo County authorities seized $23 million worth of marijuana unloaded off a boat that came from northwestern Mexico.
The nine men were arrested Friday evening after San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force Agents pulled them over on Highway 1 in Pescadero, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said. The group, which had been driving in two separate vans from Ano Nuevo State Beach, was found in possession of 180 bales of marijuana weighing a total of 5,148 pounds.
Homeland Security officials informed the Narcotics Task Force on Friday evening that boats carrying marijuana may be arriving off the San Mateo County coast, and the agents watched as a panga boat pulled ashore about 10:15 p.m., Wagstaffe said. NTF agents reportedly looked on as bales of marijuana were unloaded off the boat into two vans and went on to stop the vehicles as they entered Highway 1.
Investigators subsequently found an inflatable raft, cellphones and rain gear on the beach, and the abandoned panga was found drifting a short distance away, Wagstaffe said. Officials determined the men arrived by boat from Mexico with the intention of selling the marijuana in the United States.
Three of the suspects, identified as Luis Espinoza Mendoza, 28; Mark Richard Teixeira, 38; and Phin Yo Vorn, 33, are San Jose residents, Wagstaffe said.
The other six men arrested on charges of marijuana possession for sale and importing marijuana into the state were identified as Luis Farid Gonzalez, 20, and Mario Gonzalez, 36, of San Diego; and Juan Hernandez, 39; Juan Valdez-Lopez, 50; Estaban Flores Salazar, 39; and Joan Sicairos, 19, of Sinaloa, Mexico. All defendants were present in court Monday afternoon except Mario Gonzalez, who entered his plea Tuesday.
All nine defendants remain in custody on $1 million bail, and will return to court Aug. 14, Wagstaffe said.