Eastside Gang ‘Shot-Caller’ Sentenced to Prison

August 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The second-in-command of a Mexican Mafia-linked East Los Angeles street gang that federal authorities say terrorized residents of the Ramona Gardens housing complex in Boyle Heights for decades was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 13 years behind bars.

Victor “Grizzly” Barrios, 43, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder to a 155-month prison term, reduced from 180 months to account for about two years served in federal custody following his arrest on conspiracy and drug trafficking charges. Upon release, he will be detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and deported to Mexico, according to court papers.

Barrios was among nearly three-dozen members of the Big Hazard gang indicted in December 2014 under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, which federal authorities in Los Angeles have successfully used for decades to battle prison gangs and street gangs.

The initial indictment outlines alleged criminal acts dating back to 2007, including drug deals, intimidation, violence against people believed to have cooperated with law enforcement, illegal weapons sales and threats against black residents of Ramona Gardens, including tagging with phrases such as “no blacks.”

The Hazard gang takes its name from a park near Ramona Gardens and is believed to have around 350 members.

In a letter to the court, Barrios acknowledged his “unwise choices,” and the former gang shot-caller admitted that he alone is responsible for his actions.

Barrios said that prior to his arrest, he spent three years with Father Greg Boyle’s Homeboy Industries, learning how to be a pastry chef. He told the judge that he had enrolled in an internship program at Bouchon, chef Thomas Keller’s French bistro in Beverly Hills.

“Not only did I learn the art of bread baking, but I was given the chance to work as an extra in a couple of TV series,” Barrios wrote.

According to the indictment, Barrios’ gang distributes methamphetamine, PCP, crack cocaine, heroin and other controlled substances in neighborhoods it controls.

Gang members are known to “advertise” their criminal acts by shouting references to their gang before or during a crime to cause fear, the indictment said. Hazard-related symbols are used in tagging throughout the neighborhood.

Prosecutors say the gang uses murder, assault and threats to keep its members, associates and other Latino gangs in line. The Mexican Mafia authorizes the gang to carry out the attacks, federal authorities said.

The lead defendant in the 45-count indictment is Manuel “Cricket” Larry Jackson, a Mexican Mafia member who allegedly oversees the activities of the Hazard gang.

The indictment alleges that under Jackson’s control, the gang commits a wide variety of crimes, most significantly drug trafficking, which generates revenues through the sale of narcotics and the “taxing” of drug dealers who operate in Hazard territory. Some of the revenues generated through “taxes” or “rent” are funneled back to Jackson and other members of the Mexican Mafia, according to the government.

Jackson is awaiting trial in Los Angeles federal court in two separate cases.

Comienza el Juicio Contra Dos “Zetas” Acusados de Matar a un Agente de EEUU

July 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

WASHINGTON –  Una corte de Washington inició el martes el juicio contra los mexicanos Jesús Iván Quezada Piña y José Emanuel García Sota, miembros del cartel de Los Zetas y acusados de asesinar en México en 2011 a un agente fronterizo estadounidense y de intentar matar a su compañero.

Los dos hombres podrían enfrentarse a una pena máxima de cadena perpetua si el Gobierno de Estados Unidos consigue demostrar que cometieron el asesinato del agente del Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE) Jaime Zapata y que, además, trataron de matar a su compañero, Víctor Ávila.

El juicio, que comenzó el martes, se celebra en la Corte del Distrito de Columbia y podría durar dos semanas y media.

Los encargados de decidir sobre la suerte de los dos hombres son las doce personas que componen el jurado y que este lunes fueron seleccionadas por la acusación y la defensa.

La sesión del martes comenzó con la presentación del caso por parte de la defensa y de la Fiscalía, quienes ofrecieron diferentes versiones sobre lo ocurrido en una autopista de México el 15 de febrero de 2011, cuando dos escuadrones de los Zetas tendieron una emboscada a los estadounidenses.

El fiscal aseguró que tanto Jesús Iván Quezada Piña, alias “Loco”, como José Emanuel García Sota, conocido como “Zafado”, jugaron un papel esencial en la muerte de Zapata y en el intento de asesinato de su compañero.

Afirmó que el objetivo de los acusados era robar a los estadounidenses el vehículo blindado de color azul en el que habían viajado desde la capital de México hasta San Luis Potosí para reunirse con otros agentes del ICE y recoger una serie de aparatos electrónicos.

“Los agentes iban de vuelta a casa, por la autopista, era un bonito día, pero de repente se toparon los sicarios”, dijo el fiscal, quien describió los hechos de una forma dramática, con numerosos silencios y paseándose, de vez en cuando, frente al banco donde se sientan los doce miembros del jurado.

Según describió el fiscal, los escuadrones de los Zetas estaban en el momento del asalto “buscando coches” para poder robarlos y reemplazar los vehículos que estaban perdiendo en su guerra contra otros carteles del narcotráfico y contra el Gobierno de México.

Entonces, los narcos interceptaron el vehículo de los estadounidenses, lo empujaron fuera de la autopista, lo rodearon por todos sus costados y abrieron fuego contra el coche y contra sus ocupantes, a pesar de que los estadounidenses habían puesto las manos en alto y les habían pedido calma.

Según el letrado de la acusación, las últimas palabras que escuchó Zapata fueron los gritos de su compañero: “¡Mantente despierto!” y “¡por favor, no te mueras!”.

“Eso es lo último que escuchó Zapata y todo porque los acusados querían robarles el vehículo, un vehículo al que dispararon por dentro y por fuera”, aseguró el letrado, quien mostró fotos del coche azul con numeroso agujeros fruto del impacto de las balas.

Durante el juicio está previsto que testifique el agente Ávila, quien sobrevivió, así como algunos miembros de Los Zetas que ya se declararon culpables de haber participado en la emboscada.

Entre los acusados que se han ofrecido a colaborar con las autoridades de EEUU, destacan cuatro: Julián Zapata Espinoza, alias “Piolín”; Rubén Darío Venegas Rivera, conocido como “Catracho”; José Ismael Nava Villagrán, también conocido como “Cacho”, y Francisco Carbajal Flores, alias “Dálmata”.

La defensa de los procesados atacó la credibilidad de estos hombres, que esperan obtener de su colaboración con EEUU alguna rebaja en su condena, que podría ser de cadena perpetua.

“Para esta gente mentir es tan normal como respirar”, dijo el abogado Robert Feitel, que ha representado a otros criminales de alto perfil, como el exparamilitar colombiano Hernán Giraldo Serna.

Para poder ser condenados, los doce miembros del jurado deben alcanzar un veredicto unánime.

Montebello Gang Shot-Caller Guilty of Federal Racketeering

May 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A longtime member of the Mexican Mafia-affiliated Southside Montebello gang was found guilty Friday of federal racketeering charges that included providing a firearm used to kill a rival.

George Vera Sr., 48, was convicted by a federal jury in Los Angeles that determined he conspired to violate the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The jury also found Vera guilty of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Vera faces a penalty of between five years and life in federal prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee on a date to be determined.

Known as “Rascal” and “Big Rascal,” Vera was a senior “OG” member of Southside Montebello. During a three-week trial, prosecutors argued that he led a double life, working as an electrician for Los Angeles County during the day, and acting a gang leader and gang shot-caller during his off hours.

George Vera Sr., 48, was convicted of federal racketeering and firearm charges. (Montebello Police Department)

George Vera Sr., 48, was convicted of federal racketeering and firearm charges. (Montebello Police Department)

According to court documents, Vera “engaged in hiding a firearm with a fellow gang member, provided a firearm to a younger gang member that was used in a murder, stored firearms and ammunition at his home for gang members to use, hosted gang meetings, was involved in the payment of ‘taxes’ to the Mexican Mafia on the gang’s behalf, directed younger members of the gang to protect his home from disrespect from rival gangs, and agreed to lie to his son’s probation officer to shield him from prosecution for drug dealing.”

Two of Vera’s sons were charged and pleaded guilty in this case. Marcus Matthew Vera pleaded guilty to drug, conspiracy and firearm charges, and will be sentenced later this year. The younger George Vera pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery and possession of a firearm, and he previously was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in federal prison.

The elder Vera and his sons are among 16 defendants who have been convicted in federal court on charges related to a multi-agency task force investigation into gang activities in Montebello.

“George Vera Sr. was a senior member of a gang that undertook great efforts to quash its rivals,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “This gang also maintained an arsenal of weapons, regularly engaged in acts of violence, and was involved in significant narcotics trafficking.”

As a result of the probe, six defendants were charged by the District Attorney’s Office in relation to six cold case murders solved during this investigation. Four of those charged in relation to the previously unsolved murder cases have been convicted in state court, and another two defendants are pending trial.

Additionally, five other defendants were charged in state court for crimes ranging from drug sales to attempted murder.

“Montebello police personnel, working with our federal law enforcement counterparts, have successfully prosecuted some of the top leaders and most dangerous members of a street gang that has terrorized the community for decades,” said Montebello Police Chief Kevin L. McClure. “As a result of this collaborative effort, the city of Montebello is now a safer and more peaceful place.”

Federal Racketeering Probe Targets East L.A. Street Gang

December 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

A law enforcement sweep Wednesday resulted in the arrests of more than two dozen suspected members of a Mexican Mafia-linked street gang that federal authorities say has terrorized residents of the Ramona Gardens housing complex in Boyle Heights for decades.

Of the 29 people arrested during the raids – which involved about 800 law enforcement personnel – 25 were among 38 named in a federal indictment targeting the Big Hazard gang that authorities contend has been operating in the Boyle Heights area for 70 years.

Seven other defendants were already in custody, five remain at large and one was killed over the weekend, federal prosecutors said.

As a result of the investigation, another five people were separately indicted on narcotics charges, and four of them were also arrested today, prosecutors said.

The initial indictment outlines alleged criminal acts dating back to 2007, including drug deals, intimidation, violence against people believed to have cooperated with law enforcement, illegal weapons sales and threats against black residents of Ramona Gardens, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A 110-page indictment unsealed today details dozens of drug deals, acts of intimidation and violence against people be-
lieved to have cooperated with law enforcement, illegal weapons sales, and threats made against black residents of Ramona Gardens, which includes tagging with phrases such as “no blacks.”

The Hazard gang takes its name from a park near Ramona Gardens and is currently believed to have around 350 members. Much of the conduct is alleged in a racketeering charge that outlines a conspiracy to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which federal authorities in Los Angeles have successfully used for two decades to battle prison gangs and street gangs.

“All of the gang’s operations were done under the umbrella of intimidation — making threats and then committing acts of violence against rival gangsters, law-abiding members of the community and Hazard gang members who might be cooperating with authorities,” said Acting United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura.

“The intimidation and threats extended to African-American residents of Ramona Gardens,” she said. “In stark and simple messages delivered in person and through graffiti, the Hazard gang made it clear that black residents were not welcome in the neighborhood that it claimed to control.”

The gang’s main business is drug trafficking, according to the indictment, which details more than three dozen narcotics transactions involving as much as nearly one-half pound of methamphetamine.

To conceal the drug business and expand its territory, Hazard members took steps to prevent law enforcement from infiltrating the gang’s activities – steps that include closed-circuit TV surveillance at drug houses, making bogus complaints about police officers in an attempt to have them moved to patrol other areas of Los Angeles, and threatening and assaulting local residents who cooperate with law enforcement, prosecutors said.

The Hazard gang is closely aligned with the Mexican Mafia, and many members of the prison gang have come from Hazard.

The lead defendant in the 45-count indictment is Manuel “Cricket” Larry Jackson, a Mexican Mafia member who allegedly oversees the activities of the Hazard gang.

The indictment alleges that under Jackson’s control, the gang commits a wide variety of crimes, most significantly drug trafficking, which generates revenues through the sale of narcotics and the “taxing” of drug dealers who operate in Hazard territory. Some of the revenues generated through “taxes” or “rent” are funneled back to Jackson and other members of the Mexican Mafia, according to the government.

“Calling yourself a ‘taxing’ authority gets the attention of the Internal Revenue Service,” said IRS Criminal Investigations Special Agent in Charge Erick Martinez. “The role of IRS Criminal Investigation in narcotics investigations is to follow the money so we can financially disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations. Undermining the financial infrastructure of narcotics trafficking organizations has proven to be one of the most effective means to disrupt the market for illegal drugs.”

The federal indictment that led to Wednesday’s takedown charges a total of 38 defendants – although one of those defendants was killed this past weekend.

Including Jackson, 29 of the defendants are charged in a racketeering conspiracy count that outlines activities of the gang, its allegiance to the Mexican Mafia and the various tactics it employs to impose fear in the community. The indictment also alleges several violent acts in aid of racketeering, about three dozen narcotics offenses and several crimes related to the illegal possession of firearms.

“Because of defendant Jackson’s power as a Mexican Mafia member and his connection to Hazard, Hazard members and associates have unique authority to engage in criminal activities, such as the sales of drugs and firearms outside of Hazard territory without the risk of violent reprisal that Latino gang members ordinarily would suffer for engaging in such criminal activities in territories controlled by other Latino gangs,” according to the indictment.

The gang “is continually engaged in the distribution of methamphetamine, phencyclidine ¬– PCP – cocaine, cocaine base in the form of crack cocaine, heroin and other controlled substances,” the indictment alleges.

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