By Jim Kouri
A federal grand jury in San Diego handed down 17 indictments and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California has filed eight criminal complaints charging a total of 119 suspects with federal racketeering conspiracy, drug trafficking violations, and federal firearm offenses, according to a government report obtained by the 14,000-member National Association of Chiefs of Police on Tuesday.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said during a press conference that these unsealed cases make communities stronger and safer. “The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to an anti-gang, anti-violence strategy built on close coordination between federal, state and local officials. This coordination provides better intelligence about street gangs and violent crime within our communities. And better intelligence means better law enforcement and prosecutions,” Duffy stated.
During the same press conference, FBI Special Agent in Charge Keith Slotter said, “[Thursday’s] arrests mark one of the largest single takedowns in San Diego FBI history. The FBI and our law enforcement partners stand unified in our efforts to protect this county from the violence, drug trafficking and extortion schemes employed by the Mexican Mafia and its affiliates.”
The charges stem from three investigations entitled, “Operation Notorious County,” “Operation Carnalismo,” and “Operation 12-Step.”
“Operation Notorious County”
The indictments are the result of an 18-month-long investigation entitled, “Operation Notorious County,” led by the North County Regional Gang Task force. Eight indictments charging 51 suspects — including one charging 40 defendants with participating in a federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) conspiracy — were unsealed Thursday.
All five indictments were handed down by a federal grand jury sitting in San Diego on January 19, 2012. The RICO conspiracy alleged in the indictment involves the commission of both state and federal crimes, including attempted murder, kidnapping, robbery, extortion, money laundering, and drug trafficking violations. As set forth in the indictment, the defendants are members, associates and facilitators of violent street gangs operating primarily in north San Diego County under the auspices of the Mexican Mafia or “La Eme.”
The gangs named in the indictment include the Diablos and West Side gangs, based in Escondido, California, as well as the Varrio San Marcos and the Varrio Fallbrook Locos. The individuals named in the indictment were involved in a long-standing criminal enterprise used to extort money by threat or violence. The money was then sent on to high-ranking members of the Mexican Mafia, including defendant Rudy Espudo. The indictment alleges that Espudo is a “validated” or “made” member of the Mexican Mafia who oversees their activities throughout much of northern San Diego County.
In “Operation Carnalismo,” — led by the Violent Crime Task Force-Gang Group, a group of federal, state, and local law enforcement agents led by the FBI — five indictments charging 36 individuals were unsealed Thursday. Eight defendants are charged in one indictment with a conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity (RICO), violent crime in aid of racketeering (VCAR), distribution and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and heroin and criminal forfeiture.
Four additional indictments, charging 28 defendants were also unsealed. These related indictments charge distribution and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and criminal forfeiture. All five indictments were handed down by a federal grand jury sitting in San Diego on January 24, 2012, and unsealed Thursday.
The RICO indictment charges the criminal enterprise was run by Mexican Mafia member Salvador Colabella. Colabella and his associates conspired to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, extorted and robbed others, and laundered drug-trafficking proceeds. Colabella and his associates collected the extortion payments through the threat of violence and the commission of violence.
According to the indictment, the Mexican Mafia has about 200 members, but its reach extends to thousands of Hispanic street-gang members in Southern California. A Mexican Mafia member is the highest level one can attain in the Mexican Mafia. A member, also called “Brother” or “Carnal” or “Tio,” controls, exploits and profits from the criminal activity conducted by street-gang members and others. This control over the criminal activity is enforced through acts of violence or the threat of violence.
The year-long investigation, known as “Operation 12-Step,” was led by the East County Regional Gang Task Force, a group of federal and state law enforcement led by the FBI and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Operation 12-Step focused on gang-related methamphetamine distribution activities in San Diego County. Four indictments and eight complaints were unsealed charging 32 individuals with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. According to court records, suspects charged in this investigation belong to nine different criminal street gangs including Varrio Chula Vista, East Side Piru, Old Town National City, Shelltown, National City Locos, Imperial Beach Imperials, Paradise Hills, Varrio Encanto Locos and National City Block Boys.
Between February 22, 2011, and December 13, 2011, law enforcement made more than 20 methamphetamine and heroin seizures in connection with this investigation. In addition, search warrants were executed at eight residences in San Diego; Spring Valley, Calif.; National City, Calif.; Imperial Beach, Calif.; and Chula Vista, Calif..