Suspected Nuestra Familia leader from Hollister was a commander on streets

Philip Sparks, 33, was arrested Tuesday morning at his Hollister

The suspected top Nuestra Familia gang member in the Central
Coast region
– outside of seven California prisons where the hierarchy runs
the criminal organization – was arrested at his Hollister home this
week as part of a multi-agency effort called

Operation Street Sweeper.

The suspected top Nuestra Familia gang member in the Central Coast region – outside of seven California prisons where the hierarchy runs the criminal organization – was arrested at his Hollister home this week as part of a multi-agency effort called “Operation Street Sweeper.”

Salinas police officers arrested Philip “Sharky” Sparks, 33, shortly after 7 a.m. Tuesday at his house in the 800 block of Fremont Way, said Officer Lalo Villegas with the Salinas Police Department. The operation had resulted in more than 40 arrests as of Wednesday by local, state and federal authorities.

Sparks previously lived in Salinas for “quite some time” – Villegas did not know exactly when he moved here – and owns an adult novelty store there called Forbidden XTC. He had taken on the leadership role in Nuestra Familia – affiliated with the Nortenos – about eight months ago, according to authorities.

Officers on Tuesday morning, with Sparks’ consent, searched his Hollister home and from there his store as well, Villegas said. The store is at 551 West Market St. on the west side of Salinas, near Castroville.

He said they found “thousands” of dollars, and authorities believe Sparks was heavily involved with coordinating criminal activity and the taxation of members that helps fund the gang’s activities.

Sparks was among the most notable arrests during the sweep involving 250 police officers. He faces charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine, according to authorities. If convicted, he could spend up to 10 years in prison.

His suspected title in the Nuestra Familia gang is regimental commander, Villegas said. He noted how Sparks’ position in the hierarchy would report to one other gang member, who then would be in direct contact with the “generals” in an array of prisons throughout the state. Those inmates often use cell phones to communicate with the outside, according to the attorney general’s office.

Sparks’ dealings with street-level activity would be “minimal,” Villegas said. Any orders of violence from gang leadership would have been given through Sparks, but Villegas was unaware if such directives were carried out.

Though Hollister police were not involved in the operation and initially were uninformed of the arrest, Sgt. David Westrick confirmed, local authorities had been aware of Sparks taking up residence here, he said. Authorities in the past have noted how Hollister increasingly has become a home for higher-level gang members in the region.

Sparks likely lived in Hollister as a way to conceal himself as best as possible, Villegas said.

“These guys adapt to some of our tactics,” Villegas said, surmising how they may recognize that places such as Hollister have fewer law enforcement resources.

Westrick noted how local authorities are part of a consortium of departments throughout the area that “actively works together to track and assist each other’s agencies in investigations of this type.” He pointed out that it is possible Sparks had “less exposure” living in Hollister because he had a business in Salinas as well.

“The reality is, everybody lives everywhere,” Westrick said. “The fact is, here in Hollister we have a diverse community.”

While he confirmed police knew of Sparks’ presence here, he noted how authorities deal with known gang members “how you’d deal with anybody else.”

“If there’s a cause to take action in a particular residence or address, we deal with it,” he said.

With Sparks, the arrest was part of the larger operation. The latest round of arrests was rooted in a previous sweep organized by the Salinas department called “Operation Knockout” – which occurred in the spring.

Authorities when they arrived at Sparks’ home had a federal arrest warrant. They did need his consent to search the house and business, Villegas said.

He was booked at the Salinas Police Department and transported to a federal detention center in San Jose.

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