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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 11th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 5 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 5

Panga boat linked to Sinaloa Cartel operative


Court documents filed in March connect a panga boat found in 2012 along the southern coast of Santa Barbara County with a man allegedly working for the Sinaloa drug cartel.

Fisherman Travis Lobo discovered the abandoned boat one April morning in 2012 and claimed it as salvage. It was confiscated by local law enforcement, but Lobo won it back after a legal battle, the Santa Barbara Independent reported. On March 31, the U.S. government filed a notice in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to seize the boat.

A seizure notice filed by the U.S. government on March 31 identifies a nearly 50-foot "super panga" boat found along the Gaviota Coast in 2012—similar to this picture of a panga found along San Onofre Beach in Southern Santa Barbara County in September 2015—that's alleged to be connected to the Sinaloa Cartel, a drug trafficking organization in Mexico.

According to the filing, the panga boat is believed to belong to Marcel Quintero, who the government believes is associated with the Sinaloa Cartel.

Abandoned panga boats are occasionally discovered along the Santa Barbara County coast and are often connected to the Sinaloa Cartel. A state report published in 2014 showed that Mexican drug cartels are sending smuggling vessels farther north along California’s coastline, particularly to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

A bloody, low-intensity war for territory between drug cartels and the federal government has raged across Mexico for more than a decade. A 2015 Congressional Research Service report showed that as many as 80,000 people have been killed as a result of organized crime in Mexico since 2006, although other studies have estimated much fewer.

A 2015 map compiled by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency shows that the Sinaloa Cartel controls much of the illicit drug markets in the southwest and northeast portions of the U.S. and elsewhere. The Sinaloa Cartel was once controlled by the well-known leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, who twice escaped prison twice in a 26-year period before being recaptured by the Mexican military on Jan. 8, 2016.

Sheriff’s Office deputies who investigated the boat discovery in 2012 found the inside scattered with objects that included flip-flops, Q-tips, rolling papers with Spanish writing, and small chunks of marijuana—indicating that the boat had been used to smuggle illegal drugs from Mexico, according to the recent court filing.

Quintero’s connection comes by way of the four Yamaha outboard motors found on the boat. The filing shows that the motors’ serial numbers were traced to purchases made by Quintero in January 2012 in Tuscon, Ariz.

The Department of Homeland Security’s export records cited in the filing show that the motors were shipped to a marine engine parts vendor by the name of Servicios Hnos, Leal, S.A. de C.V., located in Sinaloa, Mexico.

In the filing, officials identify Quintero as the subject of two separate investigations—one in 2006 and 2009—involving the smuggling of cocaine and bulk marijuana from Mexico to Arizona.

“Based on this information, officers believe that Quintero is associated with the Sinaloa Cartel,” the filing states.

Quintero hasn’t been caught, but the filing shows that he has three previous arrests—in 2003, 2004, and 2005—for suspected drug and weapons charges in Nogales, Ariz.

The last panga boat to wash ashore was found along Gaviota Beach in Southern Santa Barbara County in October 2016, according to Kelly Hoover, the public information officer with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

Clarification: This original text of this story has been corrected. Fisherman Travis Lobo acquired the boat after a legal battle in 2013; it was not ultimately seized by the federal government. San Onofre Beach, along the Gaviota coast, was misidentified as that of the same name in San Diego County. The last panga boat in Santa Barbara County was found in October 2016, not September 2015. The Sun regrets the errors.

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