Over 100 officers from federal, state and local agencies dismantled a Santa Barbara-based illegal arms and drug distribution operation last Saturday in an investigation known as Operation Apehanger.
The case, under the direction of the Santa Barbara Regional Narcotic Enforcement Team and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, led to the confiscation of numerous fully automatic assault rifles, handguns and narcotics. Officers also made 12 arrests in the joint investigation, charging suspects with various counts of possession of illegal firearms, conspiracy to distribute illegal firearms and possession of narcotics for sale.
At a press conference, Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez said Operation Apehanger – named after the oversized motorcycle handlebars used by a lead suspect – should serve as a warning to criminals in possession of these dangerous weapons.
“It really goes to show you we are not immune to some of these horrific displays of fire power,” Sanchez said. “The message to [criminals] is we’re not going to tolerate this.”
Several fully automatic AK-47 assault rifles were seized, along with various other assault rifles, a stolen handgun and additional handguns with high capacity magazines. In a press release, Acting Special Agent Christopher Shaefer, who is in charge of ATF’s Los Angeles Field Division, said that it was a priority to rid the Santa Barbara community of these dangerous firearms.
“The type of firepower that these individuals were illegally manufacturing and selling is an extreme danger to every resident of this area,” Shaefer said. “These are the types of weapons that the men and women of our military face on battlefields in the Middle East and are the same types of firearms.”
In addition to the confiscated weaponry, agents also seized 80 marijuana plants from a home across from Monroe Elementary School, along with varying amounts of methamphetamine and psychedelic mushrooms.
Child Protective Services took several children who were living at locations where the search and arrest warrants were served. Two of the suspects were charged with felony child endangerment.
Sanchez said that the investigation began eight months ago, when narcotics detectives began looking into the sale of cocaine and methamphetamine. The discovery of an illegal firearms trade, however, made for a more difficult and dangerous operation.
The investigation received support from the Santa Barbara Police Dept. S.W.A.T. team, California Highway Patrol warrant service teams, Los Angeles Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, San Luis Obispo County Narcotics Task Force, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept. and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“The Santa Barbara Police Dept. was proud to work with these other great agencies,” Sanchez said. “Taking automatic weapons off the streets and putting these criminals behind bars ranks amongst our highest priorities.”
Law enforcement officials said it is not yet clear where the guns are from or whether they have been used in criminal activity, but they added that the investigation into the entire operation is still ongoing.