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Police: Salvadoran gang member arrested Friday is key player in Pogonip area drug trade

SANTA CRUZ - A "kingpin" in the Pogonip drug trade and documented Salvadoran gang member was arrested Friday by Santa Cruz police and federal immigration officials, and may be deported, police reported Tuesday.

Police said Jose Alvarenga, 23, of Aptos is a key player in heroin and cocaine sales in Santa Cruz's Harvey West neighborhood, between UC Santa Cruz and Highway 9. He also allegedly is a member of Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13, a violent street gang blamed for at least two of the city's past five gang-related homicides, according to police.

"This is pretty significant to us," Santa Cruz Police Chief Howard Skerry said of the arrest.

The Police Department launched a partnership with the gang unit from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement - ICE agents who specialize in tracking down gang members - a month ago to target gang and drug crime in the city. So far, two men have been arrested, both members of MS-13.

But Skerry said the Salvadoran gang, which once had a stronghold on the Beach Flats neighborhood of Santa Cruz and is still believed to control much of the drug trade in Pogonip, is not the sole focus of the partnership.

"We're targeting all gang members. The first two just happen to be MS-13," Skerry said. "... Time will tell on what type of impact this has on that gang in this area."

Alvarenga was arrested on suspicion of possessing stolen property, a probation violation, possessing drugs for sale and driving without a license. Skerry said he has been arrested in Pogonip on suspicion of drug-related charges several times, and is known to roam the illegal trails there that are frequented by drug dealers and users while armed with a handgun.

Also, Alvarenga is not in the United States legally but has never been deported, Skerry said. After he faces the local charges - which could carry a state prison sentence - Alvarenga will be handed over to ICE for deportation proceedings.

"This arrest should leave no doubt about our shared commitment to attack and dismantle the criminal gangs responsible for the spread of violence and dangerous drugs in our communities," ICE assistant special agent in charge Joseph Vincent said in a prepared statement.

Another MS-13 gang member, Jose Abrego Galdamez, 30, was jailed May 28 on suspicion of being in the United States illegally after being deported. He has been deported three times in eight years, most recently in 2005, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

Police also said Galdamez has deep gang ties and a local arrest record for drugs and driving under the influence of alcohol. He is being held without bond while he awaits a deportation hearing in U.S. District Court, according to ICE officials.

In addition to the partnership with ICE, Santa Cruz police are working with Drug Enforcement Administration agents to combat drug sales in the city.

The Police Department will host a community meeting from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the law enforcement partnerships with city residents. The meeting will be held at the Police Department community room, 155 Center St..

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