Final Defendants Sentenced in Prison Gang Case Based in Central Valley
FRESNO, CA—The last defendants in a series of large cases targeting the Nuestra Familia prison gang were sentenced in U.S. District Court this week, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. In total, 37 defendants were sentenced to federal prison, 18 of them to 10 years or more in prison. One defendant was sentenced to probation. They were sentenced for drug trafficking offenses committed to advance the Nuestra Familia gang.
On Monday, May 5, 2014, Jose Velez, 32, of Delano, was sentenced to 30 years in prison; Felipe Ramirez, 34, of Visalia, was sentenced to 28 years in prison; Christopher Medrano, 33, of Hanford, was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison; Raymond Avalos, 31, of Hanford, was sentenced to 20 years in prison; and Calixtro Israel Sanchez, 26, of Hanford, was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison.
On April 28, 2014, Shawn Michael Cameron, 38, of Hanford, was sentenced to 32 years in prison; Jonathan Mojarro, 24 of Hanford, was sentenced to 13 years in prison. On April 23, 2014, Richard Salas, 28, of Hanford, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The federal charges were dismissed for four defendants in favor of significant state sentences.
All the defendants in this case pleaded guilty to the charges and did not go to trial. They were members or associates of the Nuestra Familia (NF), a violent Hispanic prison gang based within the California prison system whose members exert control over street‑level Norteño gang members engaged in drug trafficking and violent crime throughout the Central Valley.
According to court documents, during 2009 and 2010, the NF trafficked in methamphetamine, distributing the drugs and collecting debts in Kings, Tulare, Kern, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, and Fresno Counties. The NF obtained large shipments of methamphetamine from Mexico and distributed it among NF regiments throughout California and elsewhere. Some of the profits of the trafficking funded NF members in prison in order to maintain the NF’s power structure within the prison system.
“Numerous federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in this region came together to take on one of the most dangerous gangs in California,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “Our work is not done, but many of the most powerful members of the Nuestra Familia will be spending many years in federal prison in places far removed from the Central Valley.”
“Organized prison gangs and other criminals who traffic drugs are responsible for increased violence in our communities,” stated Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Riehl. “This investigation is a prime example of teamwork and superior collaboration among many law enforcement agencies with a successful investigative conclusion and prosecution.”
“Today’s significant sentences demonstrate the success multi-agency Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces have in achieving the common goal in reducing violence and drug trafficking by taking offenders off the streets,” said Special Agent in Charge Monica M. Miller of the Sacramento FBI. “The FBI is committed to ongoing unified collaboration with our partners to identify, disrupt, and dismantle violent gangs who pose a threat to safety and quality of life in our communities.”
“This investigation was an example of how successful we can be when local, state, and federal agencies work together to investigate, arrest, and prosecute this level of criminal enterprise that penetrates our communities. We are very vigilant to make sure that when they attempt to take a hold in our communities in the future, we will be just as aggressive in the investigation and their arrest and prosecution,” stated Carlos Mestas, Chief of Police, Hanford Police Department.
This case was the product of an extensive series of Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the FBI; Kings County Narcotic Task Force; the California Department of Justice; and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Numerous local law enforcement agencies played key roles in the investigations, including the Police Departments of Hanford, Lemoore, Visalia, Los Banos, and Corcoran; the Kings County Sheriff’s Office; the California Highway Patrol; and the U.S. Marshals Service. Assistant United States Attorneys Kimberly A. Sanchez, Kathleen A. Servatius, and Melanie L. Alsworth prosecuted the case.
This was one of a series of NF cases prosecuted in the Eastern District of California. In two other cases completed in U.S. District Court in Fresno in 2013, seven NF associates were each sentenced to between 10 and nearly 16 years for drug trafficking offenses. In the Sacramento division of the Eastern District, three more cases have resulted in additional prison sentences for NF leaders and associates. At least 16 people were sentenced to 10 years or more in the Sacramento federal cases.