- The Washington Times - Friday, July 15, 2011

More than 500 federal agents and state and local law enforcement authorities swept through an Orange County, Calif., neighborhood Friday that had been the territory of the Mexican Mafia in what one official called a “critical blow” to the gang’s prison-based leadership and those members and associates they control throughout the region.

Armed with arrest and search warrants, the Santa Ana Gang Task Force said 99 of the gang’s leaders, members and associates face federal charges in a takedown of gangs in and out of prison, culminating a three-year, multi-agency investigation known as “Operation Black Flag.”

“A dangerous criminal street gang has suffered a critical blow to its organization and to its ability to intimidate and extort residents in the Orange County area. The criminals targeted by this operation aligned themselves with the Mexican Mafia in order to ensure their stronghold on their territory,” said John Torres, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive’s Los Angeles field division.

“Today’s operation has removed an insidious threat to the stability of our communities, and has sent a clear message to those individuals involved in gang activity that they will be pursued, prosecuted and removed from the very streets they seek to terrorize,” Mr. Torres said.

Twenty-six of 57 federal defendants were arrested during Friday’s early morning operation, while 25 were already incarcerated on unrelated charges. Six are considered fugitives and are being sought by the task force. In addition, eight of the state defendants were arrested Friday and three are considered fugitives. The remainder were already in custody.

The gang members were named in five federal grand jury indictments handed up in June, accusing the leaders, members and associates of crimes ranging from drug trafficking to conspiracy to murder. Two of the five federal indictments charge violations of the federal racketeering statute, known as RICO.

According to federal law enforcement authorities, one of the RICO indictment charges 28 defendants associated with an Orange County branch of the Mexican Mafia, purportedly led by Peter Ojeda, 40, who was indicted in 2005 and currently is incarcerated in federal prison serving time in that case.

The Mexican Mafia is described by the authorities as a powerful and violent prison gang that controls drug distribution and other illegal activities within the California penal system and on the streets of Southern California by organizing Hispanic street gangs to establish a larger network for the Mexican Mafia’s illegal activities. The authorities said if a gang does not accede to the Mexican Mafia, it will assault or kill the gang’s members who are not in custody, as well as those members who are incarcerated within the California penal system.

As a member of the Mexican Mafia, the authorities said Ojeda maintained the primary leadership role among Hispanic street gang members in Orange County and his influence over gangs extended from the streets to the jail system. High ranking and intermediate level members of the F-Troop criminal street gang, as well as high ranking members of other Hispanic criminal street gangs, such as Delhi, Highland Street, Orange Varrio Cypress, East Side Santa Ana, Little Hood Santa Ana, McClay, Townsend and Forming Kaos, made up the Orange County Mexican Mafia and assisted Ojeda in exerting his influence over Hispanic street gangs, according to the indictment.

The indictment said Ojeda ordered Hispanic gangs in Orange County to pay money as a “tax” or “tribute” that consisted of a portion of the proceeds the gangs earned from various criminal activities. In return, it said gang members were permitted to exert influence over their neighborhoods and territories and seek protection or assistance from the Mexican Mafia.

According to the indictment, Ojeda disciplined Orange County gangs members who engaged in unsanctioned violence, did not pay taxes as required, or committed some act of disrespect to the organization, its members or those protected by it. The discipline included “green lights” placed on the offender, meaning the gang or gang member would be physically disciplined or required to pay a “penalty.”

The Mexican Mafia also disciplined members, associates and other gang members by putting them on a “Hard Candy” list, meaning the person would be targeted for death by any member or associate, the indictment said.

The second indictment, the authorities said, charges an additional 17 defendants associated with the Forming Kaos street gang in Costa Mesa, Calif. They are named on charges of engaging in conspiracies to commit murder, assault with dangerous and deadly weapons, extortion, conspiracies to commit extortion, and narcotics and firearms trafficking for monetary gain.

Forming Kaos, or FK, operated and claimed territory in Costa Mesa, Calif., primarily on the westside of the city and guarded their territory against any encroachment from members or associates of any other gang. The indictment alleges FK members have and are willing to engage in acts of violence, including murders and assaults, to defend their territory, which they mark or “plaque” or “tag” with graffiti.

FK members are expected to retaliate through the use of violence, including murders and assaults, against anyone who assaults or kills another FK member, or disrespects FK or its members. The indictment said those invited to join FK are typically “jumped in,” whereby they are assaulted by two or more gang members for a limited period of time by other FK members to prove their toughness and worthiness to join the enterprise.

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