EL CENTRO - California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced the "total dismantlement" of a significant Mexican Mafia cell in Imperial and San Diego Counties after a twenty-month investigation led to the indictment of 31 mafia members. The attorney general will prosecute the case with the Imperial County District Attorney's Office.
California Attorney General Brown said: "The state will prosecute, to the fullest extent, these Mexican Mafia members and associates for their heinous crimes. Today's arrests should send a strong message--law enforcement at all levels will fight for total dismantlement of these violent criminal organizations."
In 2005, officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, California Department of Corrections, Imperial County District Attorney's Office and California Attorney General's Office formed the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force to conduct an investigation into the mafia's criminal activities. The results of the investigation led the San Diego County Grand Jury to provide an indictment of the 31 defendants on August 21, 2007.
The indictment indicates that in November 2005, Mexican Mafia member Richard Buchanan of San Diego transferred authority over criminal activities in Imperial County to Patrick Ponce. Ponce oversaw drug trafficking operations and the extortion of local criminals, such as drug dealers and alien smugglers, in Imperial County.
Under the 46-count indictment, defendants are charged with violations of the California Penal, Health and Safety Codes, including: conspiracy to commit extortion and distribution of narcotics, attempted murder, solicitation to commit murder, kidnapping, extortion, attempted extortion, torture, drug sales, firearms sales, assault with the intent to commit great bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of an assault weapon. All 46 counts are gang-related under the California's Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, an enhancement that ensures all mafia members will face stiff sentences, if convicted, of seven years to life imprisonment.
The Mexican Mafia was formed as prison gang in Los Angeles during the mid-1950s and today it is considered to be one of most powerful, violent, and well-organized criminal organizations in California. The mafia's connections reach beyond California prison walls to locations throughout the United States and Mexico. The California Department of Corrections reports that there are approximately 150 validated members and associate members of the Mexican Mafia that constitute the organization's top leadership. A typical Mexican Mafia member has authority over criminal activities in a given jurisdiction, such as a prison or an entire county. In California, the Mexican Mafia sends orders, from prison, to thousands of local Hispanic gang members who carry out commands within prisons and on the streets.
During the investigation that led up to today's crackdown, agents arrested 12 gang members and seized firearms, heroin, and methamphetamine.
Other law enforcement agencies who assisted with the investigation were the El Centro Police Department, Imperial County Sheriff's Office, Calexico Police Department, Brawley Police Department, Holtville Police Department, California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, United States Border Patrol, California Department of Corrections, Parole Division, Imperial Valley Narcotic Task Force, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The defendants will be arraigned next Tuesday, September 4, 2007 at 1:30 p.m. in San Diego Superior Court, Department 11. The indictment is attached.