About 1,000 local, state and federal law enforcement officers with search warrants raided about 70 Orange County addresses and arrested 51 gang suspects Tuesday in a follow-up to a crackdown on the Mexican Mafia started two years ago.
A multi-jurisdictional task force Tuesday afternoon sought 23 other fugitives as part of "Operation Smokin' Aces," Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.
So far, 129 gang members and their wives or girlfriends have been indicted in state and federal courts, Laura Eimiller of the FBI said.
The raids were an extension of Operation Black Flag, a similar Mexican Mafia crackdown in July 2011, Bertagna said. About 100 people were charged in the raid targeting "shot-callers," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said.
Tuesday, law enforcement officers targeted "street soldiers," as well as their wives and girlfriends, who are mainly responsible for smuggling messages, or "kites," out of prison from the shot-callers, Birotte said.
"In some ways, that's a first," Birotte said of targeting wives and girlfriends. "They play a critical role when (gang members are) in prison because they've got to get a message out."
An Orange County grand jury indicted 43 for a variety of crimes, including assaults and an attempted murder of 12 inmates in Orange County jails ordered by Mexican Mafia leaders, according to the Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. It was the largest state grand jury case in the county's history, he added.
Three alleged gang members, who were not part of the indictments, have been charged with murder in a related case that was a hit ordered by the Mexican Mafia, Rackauckas said.
In February, the trial of three men arrested for a 2009 beating in Theo Lacy jail two years ago ended with plea agreements when jurors could not find enough common ground for a unanimous verdict.
Peter Ojeda, one of the reputed leaders of a gang in the Mexican Mafia and other co-defendants were indicted in Operation Black Flag and scheduled to be tried March 25.
Smokin' Aces is a reference to law enforcement "smoking out" the Aces street gang in Santa Ana. Ojeda, scheduled to be tried next year, is scheduled to be released from prison in a few years. In 2005, he accepted a plea deal to racketeering charges, Thom Mrozek of the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
During the most recently probe, undercover officers bought 67 weapons, seized 22 pounds of methamphetamine, 1.5 pounds of heroin and three pounds of cocaine. Thirty-eight of the weapons were handguns and 29 were rifles.
Orange County Deputy District Attorney Erik Petersen said Operation Black Flag focused on criminal activity that stemmed from a feud between Ojeda and another gang leader, Armando "Mando" Moreno, while the latest operation relates to violence involving Ojeda's alleged desire to "clean house" after prevailing over Moreno's attempt to take over Mexican Mafia operations in Orange County, Petersen added.
In the Orange County murder case related to this investigation, three men have been charged, with two at-large, prosecutors said.
Robert Gaxiola, 43, and Jose Anguiano, 35, are believed to be in Mexico, according to prosecutors. Ismael Esquivel, 34, is in custody being held without bail.
The three were charged Monday with a count of conspiracy to commit murder and murder with sentencing enhancements for murder committed for a criminal street gang purpose and committing a crime to benefit a criminal street gang. Esquivel is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday.
Esquivel is an alleged high-ranking gang member who lives in Orange County while Gaxiola and Aguiano are accused of shuttling back and forth from Mexico to Southern California, according to prosecutors.
They are accused of killing 39-year-old Juanita Carillo-Ortiz in a Tijuana hotel room April 1 of last year, Petersen said. Investigators will not say how she was killed.
Carillo-Ortiz's killers burned the body and dumped it in a remote part of Mexico, Petersen alleged.
Carillo-Ortiz allegedly told Orange County gangsters that she represented the Mexican Mafia in Los Angeles and had authority to collect "taxes" while ordering Orange County gang members not to pay "taxes" to area gang leaders, Petersen alleged.
"She may or may not have had orders from the Los Angeles Mexican Mafia," Peterson said. "She probably would not take that up on her own."
Authorities recovered her body, exhumed it in Mexico and brought it back to Orange County, where investigators determined the identity by using DNA from a relative, Petersen said.
Law enforcement officers involved in the raids included members of the U.S. Attorney's Office, Orange County District Attorney's Office, the FBI, federal Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Internal Revenue Service, Santa Ana police, Orange County Sheriff's Department and state Department of Corrections.
– City News Service.