SAN DIEGO – A total of 36 defendants have been indicted based on charges of  federal racketeering conspiracy, firearm offenses and drug trafficking violations, U.S. Attorney Karen P. Hewitt announced today.

The charges stem from a year-long investigation entitled “Operation Keys to the City” conducted by the multi-agency San Diego Violent Crimes Task Force-Gang Group, which targeted the criminal activities of the Mexican Mafia (or “La Eme”), Hispanic street gangs with ties to the Mexican Mafia and the Mexico-based Arellano-Felix drug trafficking organization.

The complaint charges 13 individuals with participating in a Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) conspiracy.  As set forth in the complaint, the defendants engaged in multiple racketeering acts in furtherance of the Mexican Mafia criminal enterprise, including among other things, attempted murder, kidnapping, assault, extortion, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and the distribution of coatiolled substances.

The RICO conspiracy complaint also sets forth how the Mexican Mafia criminal organization exerted control over illegal activities within the California prison system and on the streets of Southern California through a hierarchical structure led by Mexican Mafia members.  According to the complaint, members delegate authority to Mexican Mafia associates to control specific areas both inside prisons and on the streets.  This delegation of authority is referred to as giving “the keys” to the individual.  In the prisons, Mexican Mafia members and associates control criminal activities in specific prison yards or an entire prison through acts of violence and threats.

Likewise, the Mexican Mafia seeks to control criminal activity in San Diego neighborhoods and in communities throughout California through similar means.  For example, according to the complaint, on one such occasion a Mexican Mafia member and his associates became involved in the collection of an outstanding drug debt for two Mexican nationals.  The two Mexican nationals specifically sought the assistance of the Mexican Mafia.  The group invaded the victim’s home armed with handguns and threatened to shoot the victim if  payment was not forthcoming.  The group then took four vehicles, approximately $2,000 in cash, and other personal items from the victim and victim’s family.  Finally, the group told the victim that if law enforcement were notified, the group would kill the victim and the victim’s family.

As alleged in the complaint, such transnational criminal activity was only part of an overall effort by  Mexican Mafia members and associates to forge greater ties to Mexican organized crime groups such as the Arellano-Felix organization.  The Mexican Mafia and the Arellano-Felix organization work together in international drug-trafficking operations as well as the commission of  acts of violence, such as kidnapping and attempted murder, both in San Diego and Mexico.

The 14 indictments charge an additional 19 defendants with various drug-trafficking and firearms offenses.  The drug-trafficking violations include conspiracies to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, the distribution of methamphetamine and heroin, and the possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.  The gun-related charges include firearms trafficking, providing a firearm to a known felon, the possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number and felon in possession of a firearm.

In a separate but related indictment, four additional individuals were charged on Dec. 18, 2008, with a separate RICO conspiracy.  The indictment alleges that the members of the enterprise and their associates promoted a climate of fear through violence and threats of violence to protect their drug-trafficking operation.

Indictments and complaints are not evidence that the defendants committed the crimes charged.  The defendants are presumed innocent until the Government meets its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in court.

U.S. Attorney Hewitt said, “The illegal activities of the Mexican Mafia extend from our prisons to our neighborhoods and across the international border to Mexico.  It is an organization predicated upon violence and intimidation and fueled by drug-trafficking proceeds and extortion.  These indictments mark a significant step toward attacking these criminal organizations and diminishing their influence in our community.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Keith Slotter commented, “Today’s arrests removed many of San Diego’s most dangerous criminals from our streets. Though we were able to disrupt the activities of this violent organization, our work is not done. In order to keep our community safe, the FBI and our law enforcement partners remain committed to pursuing these gangs that engage in dangerous and illegal activities.”

U.S. Attorney Hewitt praised the coordinated effort of the several law enforcement groups led by the Violent Crimes Task Force-Gang Group and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) for the coordinated team effort culminating in the charges filed in these cases.   The OCDETF program was created to consolidate and utilize all law enforcement resources in this country’s battle against major drug trafficking.

The cases are being investigated by the FBI, the San Diego Police Department, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the National City Police Department, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the San Diego County Probation Department and United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The cases are being prosecuted in San Diego federal court by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael J. Crowley, John N. Parmley, and Peter Mazza.

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