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Orange County gang bosses among 31 charged in murder, racketeering case, feds say

Two men aiming rifles.
Security camera footage showing what the FBI says are two Mexican Mafia associates just before the fatal shooting of a victim identified as R.R. on Jan. 19, 2017.
(FBI)

Three reputed gang bosses suspected of running the Mexican Mafia’s criminal operations in Orange County were charged along with 28 others in a sprawling racketeering case that included two murders and six attempted murders, federal authorities said Wednesday.

A 33-count indictment described a tightly organized structure of Orange County street and jail gangs that reported to bosses who collected “taxes” on drug deals and used violence to enforce discipline in the rackets they were accused of running.

“All drug dealers who operated in an area controlled by the OC Mexican Mafia were required to pay a percentage of their profits from the sale of drugs to the enterprise,” the indictment said. “If the drug dealer did not pay, he would not be allowed to sell drugs in that area, under threat of assault and even death.”

Failure to make monthly payments to the Mexican Mafia, known as La Eme, could get an entire gang “greenlighted,” meaning members would be severely assaulted, according to the indictment.

Since 2016, the “brothers” in charge of the Mexican Mafia’s Orange County criminal activities were Johnny Martinez, 46, Robert Aguirre, 49, and Dennis Ortiz, 59, prosecutors said. They were each charged with racketeering conspiracy and other crimes. They oversaw a network of gangs that thrived on murder, extortion, robbery and drug trafficking, the indictment said.

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Among the crimes alleged as part of the conspiracy were the fatal shootings in 2017 of two people identified only by their initials, R.R. and R.V. Prosecutors gave no details about how R.R. died, but said R.V. was lured into a vehicle, shot seven times in the back of the head and body and left dead on a street in the city of Orange.

The reputed godfather of the Mexican Mafia in Orange County was convicted Wednesday of federal racketeering charges.

One of the alleged attempted murders was a reputed gang member whose throat was slit while he was detained at the maximum-security Theo Lacy jail in Orange, authorities said, because he’d threatened to talk to law enforcement about the Mexican Mafia.

One of the defendants, Michael Cooper, 44, was stabbed in the head and back in January 2018, then cut in the throat and face in December 2019 after falling out of favor with Martinez and Aguirre, according to the indictment.

“The subjects of this investigation engaged in some of the most horrific acts imaginable,” said Ryan L. Korner, the special agent in charge of IRS Criminal Investigation in Los Angeles.

Tracy Wilkison, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, announced the indictment outside an FBI office in Orange with officials from the FBI, IRS, Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement agencies.

The suspects were indicted by a federal grand jury on April 20. Twenty-one of the suspects were already in custody, nine were arrested Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, and one, Mark Cooper, 32, is a fugitive who has lived in Fountain Valley, Calif., and Tualatin, Ore., according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Mark and Michael Cooper are not related.

The indictment was unsealed Wednesday.

Mark Cooper, also known as "Reckless," a fugitive charged in a federal murder racketeering indictment.
Mark Cooper, also known as “Reckless,” is the sole fugitive among the 31 defendants charged in an April 20 federal murder racketeering indictment stemming from Mexican Mafia gang operations in Orange County, prosecutors said.
(FBI)

Lawyers for most of the suspects could not be reached.

Meghan Blanco, an attorney for defendant Brenda Vanessa Campos Martinez of Tustin, said federal authorities seemed to be wasting resources prosecuting defendants already serving long state prison sentences for other crimes.

“Most of these people were in local custody already facing life,” she said. “I don’t understand what the government was doing.”

Blanco said she was not yet familiar enough with the case to comment on the specific extortion and drug trafficking allegations against Campos Martinez, 35, who was arrested Wednesday morning. Blanco was expecting her to be released later on bail.

The main racketeering conspiracy charge was filed against Johnny Martinez, Aguirre, Ortiz and eight others. It accused them of using murder, kidnapping, robbery and assault against rival gangs, witnesses to the group’s misconduct and fellow Mexican Mafia figures who showed disrespect to the crime syndicate.

In one of the attempted murders, a victim identified as F.B. was attacked “for threatening to discuss the Mexican Mafia with law enforcement,” the indictment said. “F.B.'s throat was slit and he was repeatedly kicked and stomped, causing serious bodily injuries to his face, head, throat, and body.”

Other charges in the indictment include violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity and conspiracy to distribute heroin and methamphetamine.

The investigation included multiple undercover buys of heroin and meth from dealers selling drugs on behalf of Martinez, according to federal authorities.


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