Mexican Mafia foot soldiers guilty of 2017 murder

Richard Villeda, age 28, was gunned down in the early minutes of Aug. 21, 2017, on East Culver Avenue in Orange
Richard Villeda, 28, was gunned down in the early minutes of Aug. 21, 2017, in the 800 block of East Culver Avenue in Orange.
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Three men were convicted Friday for their roles in an execution-style killing in 2017 that prosecutors said was ordered by a chapter of the Mexican Mafia.

Federal prosecutors said the victim, Richard Villeda, was a drug dealer and a member of a Costa Mesa gang who was supposed to send a cut of proceeds to Johnny Martinez, the alleged boss of the Mexican Mafia’s Orange County chapter.

When Villeda, 28, came up short by a few thousand dollars, prosecutors said, Martinez authorized his murder from a cellphone in prison, relying on foot soldiers who were eager to improve their status in the gang.


“They assassinated him,” Assistant U.S. Atty. Christopher Matthews told jurors in a closing argument Thursday morning in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, standing near the victim’s bloody and bullet-riddled undershirt, which was mounted on a board. “They cut him down in the street in a barrage of gunfire.”

Matthews said the defendants had no personal beef with the victim. “This was Mexican Mafia business. This was a hit.”

After a day of deliberations, jurors found each of the defendants — Kevin Trejo, whose street name was “Minor,” James Mendez, who went by “Buck,” and Mike Escobar, also known as “Risky” — guilty of murder in aid of racketeering.

It was the first trial to emerge from a sprawling racketeering indictment filed last year naming 31 Mexican Mafia members and associates, including Martinez, the alleged Orange County boss, who is expected to be tried later.

Three suspected bosses of Mexican Mafia gangs in Orange County and 28 associates have been charged in a federal murder and drug racketeering case.

April 27, 2022

Villeda was gunned down in the early minutes of Aug. 21, 2017, in the 800 block of East Culver Avenue in Orange. A neighbor said she heard a series of bangs that she thought were fireworks, then saw a black SUV driving away.

Villeda had been shot in the back seven times, and police found shell casings from two different guns at the scene, including a .357.


The government built its case with the help of surreptitiously recorded phone calls, as well as cellphone texts and location pings indicating the defendants were together and with the victim on the night of the murder.

Prosecutors pointed to a text they said Escobar sent to the victim’s girlfriend soon before the murder, luring him to his death.

“Hey D, let P know to get at me,” the text read. “D” referred to Villeda’s girlfriend and “P” to Villeda’s nickname, “Pedro,” according to court testimony.

According to the indictment, Escobar was driving the black Jeep Cherokee that was captured by surveillance video pulling into an alley near Villeda’s home in Anaheim just before midnight.

“Here,” Escobar texted Villeda.

In a text he sent soon before his murder, minutes later, Villeda told his girlfriend that he was in a car with “Buck” — apparently a reference to Mendez.

Prosecutors said Trejo took a .357 from an acquaintance before the shooting, and afterward asked the acquaintance — a gunsmith — to change the barrel. Jurors could “reasonably conclude” that Trejo was in possession of one of the guns involved in the shooting, a prosecutor said.


The SUV, which had been stolen from the Avis rental car agency at John Wayne Airport, was later found abandoned in Tijuana.

Trejo, Mendez and Escobar face life in prison when U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney sentences them March 25.