Police say Mexican Mafia prison gang led crime ring in Ventura County
Updated 05:32 p.m., November 27, 2012
A 39-year-old man in an out-of-state prison directed a crime ring in Ventura County that forced competing gangs to work together and funneled money back to the Mexican Mafia prison gang, authorities said Tuesday.
Martin Madrigal was among 27 people, including two teens, who were indicted and accused of crimes such as conspiring to commit assault, extortion, home invasion, robbery and drug trafficking, Ventura County sheriff's and district attorney's officials said at a news conference.
All but two have been arrested, and at least 16 more are expected to be indicted, officials said. (Images: Local gang members with alleged ties to Mexican Mafia)
The suspects are largely members of local gangs who worked with the Mexican Mafia, authorities said.
"These are hard-core criminal gang members. They wake up every day and try to decide where they're going to commit crimes," Sheriff Geoff Dean said at the news conference.
Authorities have seized 32 weapons, $36,000 in cash and a quarter-pound of heroin, officials said.
The Mexican Mafia is an organized prison gang that orders crimes such as killings, extortion and drug dealing inside and outside prisons, authorities say. The gang controls many Southern California street gangs, officials allege.
Officials said that in Ventura County, the Mexican Mafia forced rival street gangs into working together to commit violent crimes — something authorities had not seen before. Dean said the gang's use of fear and intimidation shows how powerful it can be.
"The shot caller was at such a high level of the Mexican Mafia that they knew they had to comply," Dean said of Madrigal.
The investigation, known as Operation Wicked Hand, began in April after investigators learned of a connection between two shootings in Moorpark and a heroin bust about the same time.
Those incidents were orchestrated by Edwin Mora, 28, a high-ranking associate of the Mexican Mafia who helped carry out orders from Madrigal, authorities said.
During the investigation, deputies thwarted crimes including two planned killings and a drugstore robbery in Ventura County, officials said.
The 35-count felony indictment from a Ventura County grand jury was returned Nov. 14, according to District Attorney Greg Totten. Arrests were later made in Oxnard, Simi Valley, Moorpark and other cities during a five-day period.
Madrigal is serving time for unrelated criminal charges at a prison outside California, which officials declined to identify. Dean said authorities "don't want to jeopardize that part of the investigation."
Details on how Madrigal allegedly communicated with Mora and ordered gang members to carry out crimes also were not disclosed.
Three of those indicted — David Acosta, 37, Alfred Perez, 28, and Javier Tamayo, 34 — face multiple 25-year-to-life sentences under the "three-strikes" law, Totten said.
Bail for the 27 defendants ranged from $1 million to $5 million. None has posted bail.
Jay Leiderman, Mora's defense attorney, said he found it troublesome that transcripts from the grand jury have not been made available. Leiderman declined to comment on the allegations against his client without having seen the transcripts but said he planned to refute them.
"Investigators like to wave around the word 'gang.' They use it to strike fear in the heart of the community. It tends to also involve a lot of puffery and allegations that maybe perhaps aren't 100 percent solid," Leiderman said.
Edwin Mora was one of the 27 people arrested after a Grand Jury indictment accused them of a gang conspiracy centered around the Mexican Mafia prison gang. Photo courtesy of the Ventura County Sheriff's department.