Sept. 25 trial in barber's drug case

Owner of Pete's arrested in multiagency crackdown

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comSeptember 6, 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 is scheduled to have his day in court 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, 2011, as part of Operation Red Zone, a multiagency crackdown on members of Nuestra Familia that led to 101 arrests in Merced and Madera counties. Cintora's trial is scheduled to start Sept. 25.

The prosecutor in the case, Deputy District Attorney Thomas Min, could not be reached for comment. John Garcia, Cintora's lawyer, said his client is not involved in a gang.

"There's no evidence to support the allegations against my client," Garcia said. "Even the Police Department's drug guy says my client's name was never on the police radar until this Operation Red Zone."

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 business.

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

"These young kids get the fade haircuts, sometimes twice a week. It's very popular among Mexicans and they like it short, so it's not uncommon some reported gang members would go get their hair cut," Garcia said.

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

Garcia filed a motion for dismissal on Cintora's behalf in March, when the case was originally set for trial. It was unsuccessful.

Garcia said the trial date was rescheduled for this month because several pre-trial motions needed to be heard.

He said he cannot understand why the district attorney's office is continuing to pursue the case because there is no evidence his client is guilty. He said Cintora was not aware drugs were inside the barbershop.

"My client rented a building," Garcia said. "There's no evidence my client is, or ever has been, a gang member,"

Code-named Operation Red Zone, the largest 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 Nuestra Familia.

Department of Justice officials said the operation was launched in August 2011 after Justice agents discovered Nuestra Familia members had set up drug trafficking operations in Merced, Los Banos, Dos Palos, Atwater and Madera.

During one day of the June 2011 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.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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