Barbershop owner facing trial in gang sweep

Attorney says client is a victim: 'The facts don't support the charges'

By Corey Pride
March 5, 2012 

A barbershop owner accused of allowing his business to become a haven for illegal activity conducted by members of Nuestra Familia and the Norteños criminal street gang will go on trial this month.

Pedro Cintora, owner of Pete's Barbershop at 1 W. Pacheco Blvd, was one of about 30 people arrested in Los Banos on June 8 as part of Operation Red Zone, a multi-agency crackdown on members of Nuestra Familia that led to 101 arrests in Merced and Madera counties.

The prosecutor in the case, Deputy District Attorney Thomas Min, declined comment. John Garcia, Cintora's lawyer, said his client is the victim of over-zealous law enforcement. "They threw out a big net and instead of just the sharks they captured everything nearby," Garcia said. "The facts do not support the charges."

According to court records, narcotics agents from the Department of Justice's Fresno office and local law enforcement had Cintora, 24, under surveillance from February to April of last year. In that time, agents recorded Gonzalo Esquivel, a reported member of Nuestra Familia, making arrangements to drop off "bread"(money) at Pete's Barbershop, court documents state. Law enforcement also reported observing at least 10 narcotics transactions at the location.

By April, according to court records, authorities concluded Cintora was allowing Esquivel to sell methamphetamine from the barbershop and Anthony Heredia, a barber at the business, was receiving shipments of the drug.

Cintora is also suspected of letting Norteños (Nuestra Familia foot soldiers) hold gang meetings and store drugs and money, earned through illegal narcotics, at the barbershop.

Garcia said his client was not at the business when authorities allege narcotics were being sold and he could not control who frequented the shop.

"You can't put a sign on your door that says no Norteños, no Sureños," Garcia said. "My client runs an honest and competent barbershop. He cannot control who comes in for a haircut."

Garcia said he believes Heredia, who is a co-defendent with Cintora, may have conducted drug deals without his client's knowledge. Garcia said Heredia was an independent contractor with his own clients.

Garcia has filed a motion for dismissal on Cintora's behalf. He said he cannot understand why the district attorney's office is continuing to pursue the case since there is no evidence his client is guilty.

"He (Cintora) has no record, no tattoos, they searched his home and found no gang paraphernalia," Garcia said. "I understand they want to make the community safe for families, but in their zeal they captured innocent people."

Jury selection is scheduled for March 13.

Code-named Operation Red Zone, the largest ever gang sweep in Merced County was conducted by agents on 31 teams who served 72 arrest warrants at more than 50 locations, on charges ranging from attempted murder to drug trafficking.

Also arrested during the gang sweep were five high-ranking members of the Nuestra Familia gang.

Department of Justice officials said the operation was launched in August after Justice agents discovered Nuestra Familia gang members had set up drug-trafficking operations in Merced, Los Banos, Dos Palos, Atwater and Madera.

During one day of the June operation, agents and officers used the Los Banos Fairgrounds as a staging area. Teams went to selected targets, announcing their presence before using battering rams to knock down doors. The handcuffed suspects were brought to a room at the fairgrounds, then were loaded into vans and driven to the Merced County Jail and other locations for booking.

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