UPDATE: We have received the official press release regarding this multi-agency gang sweep. It is posted at the end of this article.
Pre-dawn raids at about 75 locations throughout the county Tuesday were the culmination of a multi-agency investigation called “Operation Smokin’ Aces” taking aim at the Mexican Mafia, a notorious prison gang known for its grip on local street gangs, particularly in Santa Ana, authorities said, according to the O.C. Register.
Authorities said it involved dozens of arrests and search warrants that were served throughout Santa Ana neighborhoods. More than 800 officers, deputies and agents of the Santa Ana police; Orange County Sheriff’s Department; FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and U.S. Marshals took part in the investigation and the arrest warrants that were served before sunrise. The arrests were coordinated simultaneously.
The indictments include a racketeering case that targets the leaders of the gang for operating a criminal enterprise selling drugs and using violence to further their business, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Operation Smokin’ Aces is essentially an extension of Operation Black Flag, a similar crackdown in July 2011 on the Mexican Mafia prison gang that resulted in charges against about 100 people, according to Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna, as reported by City News Service.
A primary target of “Operation Black Flag” was Peter “Sana” Ojeda, also known as “The Big Homie” and “El Senor.” 70-year-old Ojeda is a member of the Mexican Mafia who has long controlled its operations in Orange County, though he’s been in federal prison for five years.
The first Operation Black Flag trial in Orange County Superior Court in February against three inmates ended with plea deals when jurors could not reach verdicts. That case involved the beating of a fellow prisoner at the Theo Lacy jail in 2009 as part of a Mexican Mafia power struggle over control of Orange County lockups, according to City News Service.
Failed Santa Ana Mayoral candidate Alfredo Amezcua, a criminal defense lawyer in Santa Ana, is said to have been the top lawyer for the head of the Mexican Mafia, Peter “Sana” Ojeda. In fact the L.A. Times identified Amezcua as an adviser for the United Gangs Council, in a 1993 article that also mentioned that Ojeda was a leader of this organization.
Ojeda was later arrested for allegedly taxing drug dealers. And then he was “sentenced to 14 years in federal prison after pleading guilty earlier this year to violating federal racketeering and narcotics laws,” according to an online news report.
Amezcua was also mentioned in another L.A. Times article in 1992, when another Urgan Gangs Council leader, Art Romo, was arrested, for alleged money laundering. In that article Amezcua was referred to as their “unofficial legal and political adviser.”
Santa Ana Council Member Michele Martinez, who was originally allied with Amezcua when she first won her Ward 2 City Council seat back in 2006, admitted to having sold drugs when she was a teenager in Santa Ana. The drug trade in Santa Ana, at that time, was largely under the control of Ojeda. Martinez’ half-brother, Pedro Franco, was arrested for a parole violation when Martinez was running for Mayor herself, back in 2008. Martinez is currently running for re-election again and does not yet have an opponent. This would be her third and final four-year term on the Santa Ana City Council, due to term limits.
UPDATE: We have just received the official press release regarding this raid:
Santa Ana Police Department, Orange County District Attorney, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Department of Justice, and the Internal Revenue Service
For Immediate Release: September 24, 2013
INDICTMENT UNSEALED ON THREE DEFENDANTS CHARGED WITH MURDER AND 43 OTHERS FOR GANG ASSAULTS IN ORANGE COUNTY JAIL AT THE DIRECTION OF HISPANIC CALIFORNIA PRISON GANG
*Part of Operation Smokin’ Aces and the largest Grand Jury indictment in Orange County history
SANTA ANA – Over 800 law enforcement personnel from Orange County, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and the U.S. Marshals Service arrested dozens of dangerous, indicted gang defendants throughout Orange, Riverside, and Los Angeles Counties as part of “Operation Smokin’ Aces.”
Approximately 70 locations were included during this morning’s operations. A total of 129 individuals are being indicted either federally or at the state level at the request of the Orange County District Attorney (OCDA), at the conclusion of a two and a half year investigation. Charges include: Federal racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion, narcotic trafficking, and gun trafficking.
The Orange County Superior Court has unsealed an indictment on 43 defendants for their participation in assaults and an attempted murder on 12 inmates in the Orange County jail at the direction of a Hispanic California prison gang (Prison Gang). The OCDA presented a case to the Grand Jury for seven days involving 38 witnesses. The case against the 43 defendants is the largest state Grand Jury case in Orange County history. Three additional defendants have been charged in a separate but related case for murder.
Operation Smokin’ Aces Investigation
The Santa Ana Gang Task Force (SAGTF) comprised of members from the FBI, Santa Ana Police Department (SAPD), Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, initiated an investigation in May 2010. The focus was a neighborhood in the southeast portion of Santa Ana that was being plagued with gang crime that included gang related shootings and narcotic sales. The scope of the investigation widened after the local gangs were tied to associates of the Prison Gang and their narcotic suppliers.
The SAGTF conducted over 140 undercover operations and seized 67 firearms, 22 pounds of methamphetamine, one and a half pounds of heroin, and three pounds of cocaine during the course of the investigation. Five of the firearms seized were linked to drive-by/walk-up shootings in the southeast portion of Santa Ana.
The United States Attorney for the Central District of California will prosecute the federal cases, and the OCDA will prosecute the state cases. The Orange County defendants were indicted Aug. 16, 2013. For more information on the federal cases, please visit the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California at http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/.
Background of the Prison Gang
The Prison Gang operates throughout California and exercises control over “Southern Hispanic” inmates within the state prison and jail systems. Southern Hispanics are defined as any Hispanic person in custody from Southern California. The Prison Gang also controls criminal street gangs, whose members pay drug-sale “taxes” to the Prison Gang as a sign of respect and as an assurance that they will be viewed as loyal to the Prison Gang if and when they are arrested and incarcerated in jail or state prison.
Circumstances of the Indictment
Indictments were obtained in 12 cases involving 12 victims against 43 defendants. All of the defendants face sentences ranging from eight years in state prison up to life in state prison. They each face various charges including felony attempted murder, felony assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury, felony aggravated assault, and felony conspiracy to commit assault. They face sentencing enhancements for criminal street gang activity and many of the defendants have prior strike convictions and/or prior prison convictions.
All but a few of the defendants are members of criminal street gangs who are subject to the control of the Prison Gang.
The few defendants who are not criminal street gang members are “Southern Hispanic” inmates who were housed with the other defendants and committed the crimes under orders from the Prison Gang.
Between 2011 and 2012, the defendants are accused of committing assaults against 12 men in the Orange County Jail at the direction of the Prison Gang. They are accused of committing assaults in groups against individual victims. The injuries to the victims ranged from bruises up to 20 staples in the head. The motives for the attacks included:
– Three victims were assaulted because their criminal street gang failed to pay “taxes” to the Prison Gang
– Two victims owed money to leaders of the Prison Gang
– Two victims were in bad standing with the Prison Gang for violating gang rules
– One victim admitted the existence of the Prison Gang in a police report
– One victim falsely claimed to be a Southern California gang member, when he was actually a Chicago gang member
– One victim was a member of a criminal street gang that falsely invoked the authority of a Prison Gang leader without his permission in the commission of a crime
– One victim was believed to be an informant
– One victim was collecting “taxes” without permission from the Prison Gang
To view the 12 indictments against the 43 state defendants, visit www.orangecountyda.com and select “Operation Smokin’ Aces” on the homepage Media Center. The defendants in custody at Orange County Jail are expected to be arraigned Sept. 26, 2013, at 1:30 p.m. in Department C-5, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.
Related Homicide Case (Case # 13CF3032)
The Task Force tied (42) Orange County street gangs into the investigation, including several associates of the Prison Gang. Three Orange County gang member defendants, apart from the 129 indictments, are being charged for murder by the OCDA. The murder was carried out in Mexico at the direction of the Prison Gang.
This homicide was investigated by SAPD and The OCSD with the assistance of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department International Liaison Unit as part of Operation Smokin’ Aces, but is separate from the indictments and did not occur in the jail. Robert Gaxiola, 43, Jose Anguiano, 35, both believed to be in Mexico with a warrant currently issued for their arrests, and Ismael Esquivel, 34, in custody without bail, are charged with one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder, one felony count of murder, and sentencing enhancements for murder committed for a criminal street gang purpose, and committing a crime for the benefit of a criminal street gang. Anguiano is also charged with an additional sentencing enhancement for a prison prior conviction for receiving stolen property in 2004. Esquivel is also charged with additional sentencing enhancements for crime-bail-crime in 2012, and for being a third striker with four prior convictions for robberies and assaults between 1999 and 2000. Gaxiola is also charged with additional sentencing enhancements for crime-bailcrime in 2010, and four prison prior convictions for possession for sale of methamphetamine in 2000, possession of methamphetamine in 2004, commercial burglary in 2007, and possession of heroin in 2009. If convicted, they each face a sentence of life in state prison without the possibility of parole. Esquivel is expected to be arraigned Sept. 26, 2013, at 1:30 p.m. in Department C-5, Central Justice Center. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Gaxiola and Anguiano are encouraged to call (855) TIP-OCCS.
At the time of the crime, Esquivel is accused of being a high-ranking member of the Prison Gang living in Orange County and Gaxiola and Anguiano are accused of being gang members who traveled back and forth between Southern California and Mexico.
Prior to April 2012, 39-year-old Juanita Carillo-Ortiz is accused of telling members of Orange County criminal street gangs that she represented the Prison Gang in Los Angeles and had the authority of the gang to collect “taxes,” angering the Prison Gang leaders. She is accused of telling Orange County gang members not to pay “taxes” to known leaders of the Prison Gang.
Carillo-Ortiz is accused of arranging to travel to Mexico on April 1, 2012, to transport drugs and meet with gang members in Tijuana. Esquivel is accused of conspiring with Gaxiola and Anguiano and ordering that she be murdered in Mexico at the direction of the Orange County Prison Gang.
On or about April 1, 2012, Carillo-Ortiz took a bus across the border into Mexico. Gaxiola and Anguiano are accused of meeting her in a Tijuana hotel room under the pretense of discussing gang business. They are accused of murdering Carillo-Ortiz. They are accused of keeping her body for several days and then burning it and dumping it in a remote area in Mexico.
Carillo-Ortiz’s body was discovered April 6, 2012, and identified through DNA.