RICO Indictment Expands Case Against Clique of 18th Street Gang Involved in Murder of 3-Week-Old Child, a Cold Case Murder Committed in 2001, and Other Crimes
Superseding Indictment Charges Defense Attorney with Laundering Illegal Proceeds on Behalf of Mexican Mafia
|U.S. Attorney’s Office June 16, 2009|
Federal and local law enforcement authorities today arrested eight of 39 members and associates of one of the most entrenched “cliques” of the 18th Street Gang after the return of federal criminal charges alleging that the gang operated a racketeering enterprise responsible for the October 2007 attempted murder of a street vendor near MacArthur Park that resulted in the fatal shooting of a 3-week-old infant, a murder of an innocent young man that occurred in 2001, and other crimes.
Two weeks ago, a federal grand jury issued a superseding indictment in a racketeering case that now charges 39 members and associates of the Columbia Lil Cycos (CLCS) set of the 18th Street Gang. In addition to the fatal shooting of the infant, which is also being prosecuted by the District Attorney in Los Angeles, the federal indictment alleges that the gang was responsible for the subsequent kidnaping and attempted murder of the CLCS member who wounded the vendor and killed the child. The superseding indictment also charges three defendants with the 2001 murder of Jose Barajas, whom gang members allegedly mistook for a rival. In addition, the indictment charges a criminal defense attorney with laundering the gang’s illegal proceeds and committing other acts on behalf of, and at the direction of, an imprisoned Mexican Mafia member, identified in the indictment only as "Mexican Mafia #1."
Today’s operation is the result of an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Los Angeles Police Department. The federal indictment unsealed today supersedes an October 2007 federal indictment that charged 18 defendants with alleged drug trafficking, and a subsequent November 2007 federal indictment that charged a nineteenth defendant. Fifteen of the defendants named in the original federal indictments are charged in this superseding federal indictment, along with an additional 24 defendants who were not previously charged.
The 31-count superseding federal indictment unsealed today charges 39 members and associates of the CLCS with participating in a racketeering conspiracy that involved acts of violence, narcotics distribution, money laundering and violent crimes in aid of racketeering (VICAR). Lead defendant Sergio Pantoja, aka “Tricky,” 33, is described in the indictment as a “Shot Caller” of the CLCS, which is alleged to have been controlled by a Mexican Mafia member currently serving a life-without-parole sentence. The CLCS allegedly used violence and intimidation to control narcotics distribution in an area adjoining MacArthur Park in the Westlake District of Los Angeles. According to the indictment, under Pantoja’s direction, as well as the direction of CLCS Shot Callers who preceded Pantoja, narcotics suppliers and street dealers paid “rent” – typically a percentage of proceeds from the sale of narcotics – in exchange for permission from the CLCS to sell narcotics in the gang’s territory; those who paid rent received the exclusive authorization to sell narcotics in CLCS territory as well as protection from rivals. The indictment also alleges that street vendors operating in CLCS territory were required to pay rent to the gang in order to be allowed to sell their wares near MacArthur Park. According to the indictment, failure or refusal to pay rent and otherwise follow the gang’s rules would result in retribution, including acts of violence.
The indictment alleges that on September 15, 2007, after a street vendor refused to make a nominal rent payment to the CLCS, at the direction of Pantoja, several CLCS members and associates acted together to shoot and seriously injure the vendor. Although the man survived, a 3-week-old infant sitting in a stroller next to the vendor was struck by a bullet and killed.
According to the federal indictment, shortly after the failed attempt to murder the vendor and the resulting fatal shooting of the infant, Pantoja ordered the kidnaping and murder of the shooter to make amends with the Mexican Mafia. 18th Street Gang members thereafter took the shooter to Mexico under the false pretense of hiding him from the police. Once in Mexico, the federal indictment alleges, the shooter was driven to a remote area, where he was strangled, and dumped on the side of a road. Unbeknownst to his would-be killers, the shooter survived the attack.
“Today we are holding this gang accountable for the violence and intimidation it used to bring terror to the citizens living and working within the gang’s territory,” said United States Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien. “The tragic murder of a 3-week-old infant is the result of a rebuffed demand for $50. The citizens of this community deserve better, and we are working with every tool at our disposal to clean the streets of gang activity.”
The defendants arrested today will be making initial court appearances this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
"This investigation is the result of several years of collaboration by agents and their partners with the LAPD and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, to identify the senior leadership of this particular 18th Street gang clique, and to use federal racketeering statutes to target shot callers who, otherwise, would continue to operate with impunity," said Salvador Hernandez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles.
The superseding federal indictment charges criminal defense attorney Isaac Guillen, 48, of West Covina, with regularly transferring thousands of dollars of CLCS rent proceeds to a Mexican Mafia member imprisoned at the federal “Supermax” facility in Florence, Colorado. According to the indictment, from October 2003 until September 2008, Guillen transferred approximately $27,500 into the Mexican Mafia member’s prison account. The indictment also alleges that Guillen and the imprisoned Mexican Mafia Member are partners in several businesses, including a limousine service, a liquor distributor, and a real estate holding corporation.
"We have known for a long time that this particular clique of the 18th Street gang was a criminal enterprise with a reach far beyond any single neighborhood or city," said Chief William Bratton of the Los Angeles Police Department. "Today is an excellent example of multiple law enforcement agencies working together to impact a criminal street gang with tentacles that cross jurisdictional lines and even prison walls."
All of the defendants charged in the federal indictment are facing a potential maximum sentence of life imprisonment based on their alleged participation in the CLCS racketeering conspiracy and/or their alleged participation in narcotics distribution within CLCS territory. Each of the defendants alleged to have participated in the September 2007 murder of the three-week old infant, as well as three individuals charged in connection with the July 2001 murder of 22 year old Jose Barajas, face a potential maximum penalty of death.
"This is another example of federal and local cooperation to combat gangs in Los Angeles," said District Attorney Steve Cooley. "The information obtained as a result of federal investigations has helped us successfully prosecute our cases. Information from our cases - most of them murders - has been helpful to federal prosecutors in putting together the broader racketeering indictments such as the one announced today."
This case is a result of a multi-year investigation by the FBI, LAPD and investigators with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. In addition, substantial assistance was provided during the investigation by the United States Postal Inspection Service. During the execution of today's warrants, assistance was provided by U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS).
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.