Raids target Mexican Mafia network

Raids target Mexican Mafia network
BY ANDREW GLAZER, Associated Press
Article Last Updated: 04/28/2007 04:30:14 AM PDT

Thirteen reputed members of one of California’s most feared gangs, including a 75-year old woman who allegedly collected “taxes” from other gangs in the Mexican Mafia’s vast sphere of influence, were arrested this week on narcotics and money laundering charges, according to court papers unsealed Friday.

The raids early Thursday by a task force made up of federal, state and local authorities netted top members of the Mexican Mafia in the Coachella Valley, a desert area east of Los Angeles, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Operation Clean House” followed a 10-month wiretap investigation of Jose Chavez Huerta, 42, of Thermal, who is alleged to have run a sophisticated methamphetamine and heroin trafficking business as shot caller for the area’s branch of the Mexican Mafia.

Huerta, arrested in the sting, is accused of demanding taxes from drug money earned by Latino gang members in the Coachella Valley and paying a cut to his Mexican Mafia sponsor, Richard “Psycho” Aguirre, who is serving a life sentence at Pelican Bay State Prison.

Aguirre’s mother, 5-foot-1 Jovita Aguirre, 75, collected Huerta’s payments and passed along orders to him from her son, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Riverside County.

Huerta and his deputy, Tony Rodriguez, 36, of Indio, enforced their control of the region with murders and assaults, including of inmates in prison, and home-invasion robberies, according to the complaint.

The Mexican Mafia, also called “La Eme,” was formed by Mexican-American inmates in a Northern California prison in the 1950s as a front against racist attacks. It has since fanned across the state prison system and to Mexican and U.S. streets.

Authorities say the self-proclaimed “gang of all gangs” has cowed a who’s who of the state’s deadliest gangs — including Aryan Brotherhood and 18th Street — into paying taxes in their turf, which primarily runs south of Fresno. “La Eme” hits gangs who refuse the arrangement with a so-called “green light,” making them a target for retaliation by the gang and its allies.

Transcripts of wiretaps show a harried life driven by fear and money. Federal agents listened in as Huerta and others appeared to furiously hustle drug deals and demand tax payments from one another as deadlines loomed, according to the transcripts.

After Huerta found out that Internal Revenue Service investigators had intercepted one of his payments to Jovita Aguirre, he sounded resigned to getting arrested and exacting revenge on associates in Riverside County Jail he believed had been talking too much, the transcripts showed.

“The day I get busted, I’m going to go in there and start whacking … for being stupid,” he told Rodriguez in an intercepted phone conversation, according to court papers.

Authorities said Thursday’s raids netted more than 50 guns, methamphetamine, a live pipe bomb, $15,000 in cash and several vehicles.

All but one of the 13 charged in the federal complaint is charged in a conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess narcotics. Ten were scheduled to appear Friday in Los Angeles federal court.

A 14th person was arrested separately from the others Thursday and is also expected to face federal charges, according to the statement from Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Others arrested Thursday include:

Rodolfo Baldemar Zuniga, 26, of Thermal, who allegedly delivered drugs for Huerta.

Maria Carmen Huerta, Jose Huerta’s wife, 28, of Thermal.

Chad Wayne Baringer, 32, who is already in state custody and allegedly sought permission from Jose Huerta to sell drugs.

Joe Huerta, 27, of Coachella, who authorities believe to be Jose Huerta’s brother.

Ernest Julian Sanchez, 37, who is accused of trafficking in methamphetamine and conspiring with Huerta in his organization.

Alicia Rodriguez, 35, of Montclair, who allegedly collected tax payments on behalf of another Mexican Mafia member.

James Angle, 31, of Coachella, who is accused of conspiring with Tony Rodriguez.

Oscar Bustos, 32, who is in a Riverside County Jail and is accused with conspiring with Tony Rodriguez

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