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Meth arrests deliver $1.2M

Turlock storage unit yields stash of cash
last updated: August 22, 2008 07:14:23 AM

TURLOCK -- Narcotics enforcement agents seized $1.2 million in drug money from a rented storage unit Wednesday and arrested two people on suspicion of selling methamphetamine, authorities said.

Tammie Lynn Rugado, 47, and Mario Alberto Moreno, 42, both of Turlock, were arrested on suspicion of transporting a controlled substance and conspiracy, authorities said Thursday. Moreno also was charged with possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of sales.

Rugado and Moreno were being held Thursday evening at the Stanislaus County Jail. Rugado's bail was set at $50,000, and Moreno's bail was was set at $2 million. They are scheduled to appear in Stanislaus County Superior Court today.

Members of the Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency, the California Multi-Jurisdictional Methamphetamine Enforcement Team and the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas team conducted the investigation and served search warrants at two homes in Turlock on Wednesday afternoon, said Sgt. Craig Gundlach, a Modesto police spokesman.

Gundlach said the narcotics agents learned that Rugado and Moreno were selling methamphetamine. He said the agents found Rugado and arrested her at her home in the 900 block of Wayside Drive in Turlock.

He said the agents arrested Moreno during a traffic stop after he was spotted leaving his home in the 700 block of West Main Street in Turlock.

The agents found about three-quarters of a pound of crystal methamphetamine and $5,100 in cash in Moreno's vehicle during his arrest, Gundlach said.

While searching Moreno's home, the agents learned he was renting a self-storage unit in Turlock. Gundlach said the agents went to the storage business, where a drug-sniffing police dog indicated that an illegal narcotic was inside Moreno's unit.

He said the agents obtained a search warrant for the storage unit before they found $1.2 million in cash inside. The agents said they believe the cash is the profit from drug sales and trafficking.

Usually, seized drug money is placed in a bank account, where it remains until a trial has concluded the case, Gundlach said.

The agencies most likely will seek to claim the money if the trial concludes with a conviction, he said, in what is called asset forfeiture.

"It's a long process," Gundlach said. "It has to go to court and go through civil proceedings."

Once the agencies gain control of the cash, Gundlach said the money is disbursed among the agencies involved in the investigation and conviction, including the district attorney's office or federal investigators.

He said the money is used in investigations into narcotics activity and anti-drug efforts.

Dave Sundy, a commander with the Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency, said this is one of the largest seizures of money the agency has had.

The agency was started by a federal grant in 1974. The SDEA includes officers from local law enforcement agencies, along with DEA and FBI agents. The narcotics agents focus their time on large seizures and drug trafficking in Stanislaus County.

"Yesterday's seizure will cause a big problem for these suspects and their drug operation," Sundy said. "There continues to be a large amount of methamphetamine produced and sold in the Central Valley. Our goal is to continue to identify and dismantle these drug organizations and make it difficult for them to commit their crimes and victimize our communities."

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.