Suspect arrested in killing of Mexican Mafia member

Man with a mustache has a mask around his chin
Donald Ortiz, shown here in an undated photograph from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, was killed Nov. 19, 2021, in Chino.
(California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

Authorities have arrested a man on suspicion of killing Donald Ortiz, a Mexican Mafia member who was gunned down last year on a street in Chino, decades after others in the prison-based organization decided he should be killed.

Cesar Palomino, 49, was taken into custody Friday in Las Vegas, where he lives, and is being held in a city jail there while San Bernardino County authorities seek to extradite him, according to Chino police.

Ortiz was inducted into the Mexican Mafia in the 1980s, joining a group of about 140 men who control much of the drug trade in California’s prison system and hold sway over nearly all of the Southland’s Latino street gangs. But by 1995, Ortiz had angered other members of the organization, who plotted to kill him during a meeting in a motel room that was secretly recorded by authorities.


For the next quarter-century Ortiz eluded several attempts on his life, refusing appeals from law enforcement to renounce his allegiance to an organization intent on killing him.

His past seemingly caught up with him on a sidewalk in Chino, a city on the western edge of San Bernardino County. In the afternoon of Nov. 19, a man wearing a blue suit jacket walked up to Ortiz, exchanged a few words with him and then shot him once in the head. Ortiz was 59.

His killer escaped through an apartment complex, eluding a police dragnet that locked down several city blocks for hours.

Luck runs out for Donald “Little Man” Ortiz, who refused offers of protection after being banished and marked for death by the powerful Mexican Mafia.

Dec. 22, 2021

In a statement, Chino police did not explain why they believe Palomino is Ortiz’s killer, saying only that he was identified as a suspect after a “lengthy and complex investigation.” Palomino is a member of a Southern California gang, according to Chino police. They didn’t specify which one.

The investigating detective declined to comment.

By the time of his death, Ortiz, who was nicknamed “Little Man,” had spent most of his life in prison, jail and juvenile hall. At 13, he joined a local gang, the Whittier Varrio Locos, and racked up a rap sheet as a minor that included robbing a man of an eight-track tape deck, taking a woman’s purse at knifepoint and threatening the staff of a reform school, according to probation records.

At 23, while he was being held at the Los Angeles County Jail on a firearms charge, two Mexican Mafia members handed Ortiz a knife stolen from the staff dining room and told him to kill another Mafia member who was suspected of skimming money from drug sales, according to a former member and records reviewed by The Times.

Robert Hinojos was convicted after a trial that shed light on the workings of the Mexican Mafia, a group of about 140 men who wield enormous influence in prisons and on the streets of Southern California.

April 1, 2022

Shortly after the man was stabbed to death in June 1986, Ortiz was “made,” or inducted into the Mexican Mafia, the former member said. But word later circulated that Ortiz, instead of carrying out the killing himself, had asked another inmate, also nicknamed “Little Man,” to do it, the former member said.


That man was charged with the murder, convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 11 years in prison, while Ortiz pleaded guilty to being an accessory and got two years, court records show.

By 1995, a group of Mexican Mafia members decided that Ortiz should die for “disrespecting” the organization, according to a recording of the motel room meeting. The dozen Mexican Mafia members who had gathered hatched a plan to have an associate of the gang subpoena Ortiz to court, where he would be stabbed to death in a holding cell.

FBI agents and sheriff’s deputies arrested the architects of the plot before it could be carried out.

In 2001, Ortiz stole a car that had been left unlocked in an alley in Whittier as part of a police sting operation.

After Ortiz was convicted at trial, a prosecutor urged the judge to send him to prison for as long as the law allowed. Ortiz, she wrote in a sentencing memo, was the “prime suspect” in three murders that remained unsolved because witnesses would not cooperate.

Ortiz was sentenced to 13 years in prison, plus an additional six for possessing weapons in jail. Released in 2019, he soon ran afoul of the law again, and was freed a final time in January 2021.


Ortiz listed his address as a second-story apartment in the 5100 block of Philadelphia Street.

It was on this block that he was killed in November.