Federal prosecutors closed their case against a Santa Ana street gang with the conviction Wednesday of a man who could get a life sentence for racketeering, murder and other violent offenses.
Francisco Rodriguez, 22, was found guilty by a federal jury in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana after a six-week trial. He was the last of 11 members of the West Myrtle Street Gang convicted after a two-year investigation by Santa Ana police and federal agents.
Ten other gang members, including leader Octavio Valenzuela, pleaded guilty to racketeering charges. One gangster was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison, where there is no parole; the others are awaiting sentencing. The defendants were indicted in June 2005.
Rodriguez, also known as “Trigger,” was charged with killing a rival gang member at a Santa Ana motel in 2004 and attempting to kill the victim’s brother in the same incident. He was also charged with conspiring to murder members of another gang in retaliation for the killing of a West Myrtle member.
What authorities called Operation Nemesis led to indictments of about 25 people, including members of the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang. The investigation marked the first time that the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act was used in Orange County.
Peter Ojeda, 64, whom federal authorities identified as the ranking Mexican Mafia soldier in Orange County, was sentenced to 14 years in prison after pleading guilty in December to racketeering and narcotics violations. Known as “The Big Homie” or “The Senor,” Ojeda ran a criminal organization for 30 years, prosecutors said. Authorities said the La Habra resident controlled the drug trade of local Latino street gangs, including West Myrtle.
According to court records, the gang controlled an area between the 1900 and 2200 blocks of West Myrtle Street in Santa Ana, using violence and intimidation to protect its turf. Drug dealers were required to pay a tax to sell narcotics in the gang’s territory. The gang, in turn, would pay the Mexican Mafia a tax for narcotics sales by its members.
Membership in the West Myrtle gang was by invitation only, according to court documents. Some members were “jumped in” by other gangsters who beat them up so the neophytes could prove their toughness. Others were given a pass if they grew up in the gang’s territory or if they had family members in the gang.
When the arrests were announced in 2005, law enforcement officials said, the gang had been largely dismantled.