Eight defendants have pleaded not guilty to transporting more than 5,000 pounds of marijuana from Mexico to San Mateo County by boat, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The eight defendants who entered pleas are Luis Farid Gonzalez, 20, Juan Hernandez, 39, Juan Valdez Lopez, 50, Luis Espinoza Mendoza, 28, Estaban Flores Salazar, 39, Joan Sicairos, 19, Mark Richard Teixeira, 38, and Phin Yo Vorn, 33. They entered the pleas Monday in a courtroom in Redwood City.
A ninth defendant, Mario Gonzalez, 36, was not able to appear in court and was to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.
The charges against the four Mexico residents, three San Jose residents and two San Diego residents stem from an incident Friday night in which San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force agents intercepted 180 bales of marijuana worth $23 million after they were loaded into vans from a boat that had landed at the beach in Año Nuevo State Park in Pescadero, prosecutors said.
On Friday, officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security alerted the county task force that marijuana boats might be landing off of the San Mateo County coast, according to the District Attorney’s Office. At 10:15 p.m., two large vans allegedly entered the state park to meet a panga boat that had landed there, prosecutors said.
Task force agents stopped the vans as they drove back onto Highway 1 and discovered 5,148 pounds of marijuana inside, prosecutors said.
Agents also found an inflatable raft, rain gear and cellphones on the beach. A local fisherman spotted the unmanned boat drifting in the water and the U.S. Coast Guard recovered it, according to the District Attorney’s Office. An investigation determined the boat had come from Mexico to deliver marijuana to California, prosecutors said.
The defendants are due back in court on Aug. 14 for a preliminary hearing. More than 1,000 pounds of marijuana was discovered in May during a maritime smuggling attempt at the same location. A boat and a nearby SUV were both found abandoned.