SANTA ANA, California – A 33-count federal grand jury indictment unsealed today charges 31 members and associates of the Orange County Mexican Mafia with racketeering offenses, two murders and six attempted murders, and related drug and gun charges.
The indictment includes charges of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act; committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering (VICAR), including murder and attempted murder; conspiring to traffic narcotics; distributing, and possessing with the intent to distribute, methamphetamine and heroin; using a firearm to cause a death; and other firearm charges.
“The violence, drug-dealing and other criminal acts being committed in our communities by gangsters associated with the Mexican Mafia is being met with the strongest possible response by law enforcement,” said United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. “We will continue to investigate, arrest and prosecute these individuals to the fullest extent of the law to restore a sense of safety to so many neighborhoods that have felt the impact of their destructive conduct.”
“The Mexican Mafia allegedly preyed on vulnerable communities through fear, violence, and intimidation,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “This indictment sends a clear message that the Criminal Division, and our federal, state, and local partners, remain committed to protecting all of our communities from violence and exploitation.”
The indictment alleges that the Mexican Mafia, also known as La Eme, was comprised mostly of senior members of Latino street gangs who came together to control and profit from the activities of other Latino gangs operating in Southern California and within the California penal system. It is alleged that the Mexican Mafia members divided control of various areas in Southern California, with the member in control of a specific area controlling the criminal activities in that territory and receiving “taxes” paid by gangs to allow them to deal drugs in that area.
In addition to this widespread “tax” collection, it is alleged that the OC Mexican Mafia directly engaged in drug distribution in and out of prisons and jails. The indictment also alleges that the OC Mexican Mafia maintained authority over Latino street gangs through murder, attempted murder, and violent assaults with weapons including firearms.
“Cases targeting criminal enterprises like the Mexican Mafia require close collaboration with our local and federal partners and employ a variety of sophisticated techniques to overcome their evasive tactics,” said Kristi K. Johnson, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The Mexican Mafia in Orange County controls the majority of local gangs and rules by threatening violence and exacting violence on their enemies or against their own members who don’t follow strict rules. This indictment is the latest in our continuing joint efforts to target gangs and drug networks that fuel the violence in our communities.”
The indictment alleges that in or around 2016, and continuing to at least in or around April 2022, defendants Johnny Martinez, Robert Aguirre, and Dennis Ortiz were the OC Mexican Mafia members in charge of criminal activities in Orange County and within Orange County jail and prison facilities. Defendants Omar Mejia, Miguel Jose Alvarado, Luis Heriberto Vasquez, Michael Cooper, and Abraham Guajardo held positions of shot-callers or mouthpieces for Martinez, Aguirre, and Ortiz. Defendant Robert Martinez held a position of authority within the Orange County Jail as Johnny Martinez’s representative. Defendant Brenda Vanessa Campos Martinez served as a secretary for Johnny Martinez, and defendant Danielle Canales served in a similar capacity for Johnny Martinez and Cooper. The violent crimes alleged against the OC Mexican Mafia include:
- the Jan. 19, 2017, armed robbery and shooting death of R.R.;
- the Aug. 21, 2017, shooting death of R.V., who was shot seven times in the back of the head and body, and left dead on the street in Orange;
- the Aug. 5, 2017, attempted murder of defendant Munoz, who had fallen out of favor with the OC Mexican Mafia and was shot seven times;
- the Dec. 1, 2017, attempted murder of D.D., a representative of a Latino street gang, who was allegedly abusing his power and authority within the OC Mexican Mafia enterprise;
- the Dec. 12, 2017, attempted murder of E.O., an OC Mexican Mafia associate incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison, who was believed to have violated the OC Mexican Mafia’s code by warning individuals that they were targeted for violence by the OC Mexican Mafia, and who suffered multiple injuries, including puncture wounds to his torso;
- the Dec. 25, 2017, attempted murder of R.M. for showing disrespect to defendant Johnny Martinez;
- the July 29, 2020, attempted murder of F.B., a member of an Orange County Latino street gang incarcerated at the Theo Lacy Facility, who was targeted because he purportedly claimed that he would speak to law enforcement about the Mexican Mafia, and whose throat was slit; and
- two murder attempts on Jan. 5, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2019, of defendant Cooper, who had fallen out of favor with defendants Johnny Martinez and Aguirre, and who in one incident was stabbed multiple times in the head and back area, and in the second was cut in the throat and face.
In addition to these alleged violent acts, law enforcement investigated the OC Mexican Mafia’s methamphetamine and heroin trafficking activities on the streets, as well as in the prisons and jails. Authorities conducted multiple undercover purchases of methamphetamine and heroin from OC Mexican Mafia associates who were selling narcotics on behalf of Johnny Martinez and the OC Mexican Mafia.
“The Santa Ana Police Department is committed to working alongside local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to ensure that violent, career criminals are incarcerated and are brought to justice,” said Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin. “Today’s operation was a result of years of dedicated investigation into some of the most dangerous gang members that plague our communities.”
Today’s arrests are the culmination of a multi-year investigation that IRS-CI is proud to be a part of”, said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner. “The subjects of this investigation engaged is some of the most horrific acts imaginable, and we are glad to have done our part to help end their corrupt influence over our community.”
Out of the 31 defendants charged in the indictment, 21 were already in custody, and nine were arrested last night and this morning. Those arrested today are expected to be arraigned this afternoon in United States District Court in Santa Ana, and those already in custody will make initial appearances once each defendant is in federal custody.
The RICO statute provides for a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for acts performed as part of the criminal organization. The VICAR statute provides for a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for murder, a maximum sentence of 20 years for assault with a dangerous weapon, a maximum sentence of 10 years for attempted murder, and a maximum sentence of three years for attempted assault with a dangerous weapon. The charge of possessing, using, carrying, and discharging a firearm in furtherance of/during and in relation to a crime of violence carries a maximum sentence of life, with a mandatory sentence of at least five years and up to 10 years. The charge of causing death using a firearm carries a maximum sentence of life. Distribution and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and heroin carries a maximum sentence of life, and a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years and up to 10 years. Felon in possession of a firearm or ammunition carries a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. A federal district judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The FBI; the DEA; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); IRS-Criminal Investigation; the Santa Ana Police Department; the Anaheim Police Department; the Fullerton Police Department; the Orange Police Department; the Placentia Police Department; the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; the Orange County Probation Department; the Orange County District Attorney’s Office; and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are investigating the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel Ahn, Gregory Scally and Gregory Staples of the Santa Ana Branch Office, and Justice Department Trial Attorneys Marianne Shelvey and Danbee Kim of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section are prosecuting this case.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.