FBI San Diego
Special Agent Davene Butler
(858) 320-1800
July 14, 2017

Nineteen Mexican Mafia Associates Charged After Three-Year, Multi-Agency Investigation

‘Operation Emero’ Targeted Notorious Prison Gang with Long, Deadly Reach

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, in collaboration with state and federal law enforcement partners, announced the results of a three-year investigation, July 14, 2017, into the deadly and violent Mexican Mafia prison gang. The gang, also known as Eme or La Eme, operates inside and outside of prisons ordering murders, assaults, extortion, and drug trafficking. The organization routinely sanctions murder and violent assault as a means of discipline for members, associates, and rivals.

The investigation revealed that incarcerated Mexican Mafia members were using facility phones, e-mail, mail, and contraband cell phones to communicate with associates who were ordered to extort victims, sell drugs, and to collect money on behalf of incarcerated members. Two key groups were identified as being directed by Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate Jose “Bat” Marquez and California death row inmate, Ronaldo Ayala. This investigation involved thousands of recorded conversations and voluminous written communication detailing the gang’s internal operations and criminal activities.

“This gang is extremely gruesome and calculated in their violence to inspire fear and intimidation,” DA Stephan said. “This investigation has far-reaching implications across the organization and sends a message that law enforcement will protect the community from gang violence.”

As a result of Operation Emero, law enforcement executed 11 search warrants and filed charges against 19 criminals, most of whom are active gang members with prior criminal convictions. Law enforcement arrested 10 members and associates of the gang on Thursday, July 13, 2017, seized $51,000 in cash, and seized methamphetamine and heroin. Of the 25 felony counts, charges include conspiracy to commit torture, conspiracy to commit assault causing great bodily injury, extortion, possession of drugs for sale, conspiracy to commit arson, and possession of an assault weapon. In addition, during the course of the investigation, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Security Threat Group searched 39 prison cells and confiscated 23 contraband mobile phones, two sim cards, methamphetamine, heroin, and documents pertaining to Mexican Mafia business. Based on the searches and the investigation, four inmates were placed in administrative segregation. The investigation also led to seizure of six firearms, including an AK-47.

This operation was a joint effort among the East San Diego County Regional Gang Task Force led by Sheriff Bill Gore, the San Diego Violent Crimes Task Force led by the FBI; and the San Diego Special Services Unit of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“The FBI is constantly working in San Diego, around the country, and globally, to mitigate the threat of violent gangs,” said Special Agent in Charge Eric S. Birnbaum. “This case demonstrates the combined work, expertise, and resources of our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners with the FBI Safe Streets Task Force Initiative to fight violent gang activity that impacts our community. Together we continue to get the job done.”

Thursday’s takedown of 10 targets was the result of long standing law enforcement cooperation.

“San Diego County Law Enforcement agencies have a long and successful history of cooperation and partnership,” Sheriff Bill Gore said. “I am proud to continue this tradition of partnership, which allows us to conduct complicated and effective investigations such as Operation Emero, which make the entire county safer.”

The investigation and subsequent takedown sent shockwaves through the gang’s organization.

“I commend our agents in CDCR’s San Diego Special Service Unit and thank our partners on the FBI Safe Streets Task Force,” said John E. Prelip, CDCR special agent in charge. “Through the Special Service Unit’s continued collaboration with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, this investigation exposed a sophisticated network of criminal activity orchestrated by the Mexican Mafia operating in the San Diego area. The Special Service Unit will continue to work together and liaison with law enforcement teams to dismantle the operations of criminal gangs.”

Defendants include: John Benavides, 28; Melissa Calingay, 30; Arturo Castillo, 37; Jenny Delaossa, 35; Patrick Germany, 32; Elias Guedea, 51; Brooke Herrera, 24; Sorina Maycott, 48; Jorge Munoz, 40; Robert Navarro, 59; Ariana Noriega, 25; Roberto Ortega Jr., 53; Monica Rodriguez, 37; Brandon Stephens, 35; Jack Harrison, III, 35; James Jackson, 29; Osvaldo, Luna, 28; and Richard Romero, 40, and one outstanding defendant. The defendants arrested in the takedown will be arraigned in Dept. 11 of the downtown location of Superior Court on July 24 at 2:00 p.m.

Task force agents and assistance were provided by the following agencies: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Internal Revenue Service, United States Marshals Service, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Highway Patrol, San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, San Diego County Probation Department, Chula Vista Police Department; El Cajon Police Department, La Mesa Police Department, National City Police Department, and the San Diego Police Department.