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Feds charge 57 members, associates of Mexican Mafia in California

By Michael Martinez, CNN
  • Federal authorities accuse Mexican Mafia and an affiliate gang with racketeering
  • Charges include drug trafficking, assaults and murder
  • 26 of 57 defendants were arrested; 25 others were already in prison
  • The remaining six are fugitives

Santa Ana, California -- Federal authorities arrested 26 members or associates of the Mexican Mafia gang in southern California Wednesday on charges involving drug trafficking, racketeering and murder, officials said.

A total of 57 defendants were charged, including 25 already incarcerated on unrelated offenses, authorities said. The remaining six are fugitives, authorities said.

The 57 are charged in five indictments accusing them of being members or associates of the Mexican Mafia and the affiliated Forming Kaos street gang, both of which operate in Orange County, California, officials said.

Two of the five indictments allege racketeering. One names 28 alleged members of the Mexican Mafia, including its Orange County leader Peter Ojeda, who is currently serving a federal prison sentence for an unrelated 2006 conviction, authorities said.

The other racketeering indictment identifies 17 alleged members of the Forming Kaos street gang in Costa Mesa, California, which has ties to the Mexican Mafia, officials said.

The remaining three indictments charge 13 of the defendants with trafficking of heroine, methamphetamine and cocaine and with firearms offenses, authorities said.

The Orange County District Attorney's Office also filed various charges in connection with the alleged murder and assault conspiracies, authorities said.

More than 500 federal and local law enforcement officers carried out Wednesday's arrest and search warrants, culminating an investigation that lasted years, authorities said.

The Mexican Mafia is a powerful and violent prison gang that controls drug distribution and other illegal activities within the California penal system and on the streets of southern California by organizing Hispanic street gang members to establish a larger network for the Mexican Mafia's illegal activities, authorities claimed in a statement

"If a gang does not accede to the Mexican Mafia, the Mexican Mafia will assault or kill the gang's members who are not in custody, as well as those members who are incarcerated within the California penal system," authorities said in a statement.

Ojeda, who served as the Orange County leader of the Mexican Mafia for decades, is accused of ordering Hispanic gangs to pay a "tax" or "tribute," and in exchange, they were permitted to exert influence over their neighborhoods and seek Mexican Mafia protection, authorities said.

For those gangs not paying the tax, Ojeda allegedly ordered them to be physically disciplined under "green lights" or targeted them for death by putting them on a "Hard Candy" list, authorities said.

"No member of the Mexican Mafia, and no gang member affiliated with the Mexican Mafia, is beyond the reach of the law," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr., said in a statement.

CNN's Gabe Ramirez contributed from Santa Ana, California.