Jury Convicts 3, Clears 2 in Mexican Mafia Case;

November 10, 2001

Jury Convicts 3, Clears 2 in Mexican Mafia Case;
Court: Mixed verdicts in a six-month trial cap prosecution by the U.S. attorney of more than 40 defendants.


The U.S. attorney’s office wrapped up its prosecution of more than 40 accused Mexican Mafia members Friday with a mixed bag of verdicts against five remaining defendants.

A federal jury in Los Angeles cleared all five of taking part in a 1998 shooting rampage that left three people dead and two wounded at a Montebello auto body shop.

The murders formed the basis of federal racketeering charges carrying a maximum penalty of life in prison.

But the same jury convicted three of the five of separate conspiracy charges that could put them behind bars for up to 20 years. Of the 43 Mexican Mafia suspects indicted in 1999, 39 have been convicted. Aside from the two people acquitted Friday, one suspect was cleared and freed shortly after being indicted. Another is a fugitive.

“We’re disappointed that the jury didn’t see the murder side of the case the same way we did,” U.S. Atty. John S. Gordon said Friday. “But it was the jury’s job to evaluate the evidence presented, and we accept their verdicts.”

The jury foreman, a 54-year-old air traffic controller who asked not to be named, faulted the prosecution’s chief trial witness, Max Torvisco, a college dropout-turned Mexican Mafia leader.

“We found him to be out and out lying about the murders,” the foreman said. “As soon as we caught him lying, he was dead meat, and so was the prosecution’s case.”

Torvisco was one of the defendants indicted in 1999. At the time, he was serving as second in command to the top-ranking Mexican Mafia leader in Los Angeles.

Hoping to avoid being tried under a recently expanded federal death penalty act, he volunteered to testify against his fellow gang members.

This was the third trial in which Torvisco had taken the stand for the prosecution. Much of his testimony involved interpreting hours of coded conversations between Mexican Mafia members that were secretly taped by law enforcement.

And although jurors in the other cases expressed some doubts about his credibility, this was by far the sharpest attack to date.

Friday’s verdicts capped a six-month trial that included 30 days of deliberations.

Acquitted of all charges were Gerardo Jacobo, 21, and Mario Castillo, 22, who have been held without bail since their arrests two years ago.

Marcelo Arevalo, 26, Daniel Bravo, 28, and Robert Mercado Jr., 27, were each found guilty of conspiring to commit racketeering and conspiring to distribute narcotics, crimes punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Arevalo was convicted on a separate charge of conspiring to peddle drugs while behind bars.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who has presided over all three Mexican Mafia trials, set sentencing dates in January for those convicted.

The highest-ranking gang member convicted after the indictments was Mariano “Chuy” Martinez, 43, who prosecutors said orchestrated the Montebello murders and ordered hits on 10 other people. Martinez was prosecuted under the federal Death Penalty Act, but a jury spared him, deciding instead on a life term.

Founded by gang leaders from East Los Angeles in the late 1950s, the Mexican Mafia, also known as La Eme (Spanish for The M), became a powerful force inside California’s prisons and on the streets, where it enforces its will through kil#i*ggs and beatings.

Widely feared, the organization taxes neighborhood street gangs in the barrios for the right to operate and traffic in drugs. Inside the state’s prisons and jails, La Eme controls the flow of drugs.

In many respects, the organization has sought to imitate the traditional Italian Mafia, requiring recruits to show their loyalty by carrying out kil#i*ggs and adopting a code of conduct governing personal relationships.

About 3,500 Mexican Mafia members and blankociates are housed in California state prisons, according to corrections officials.

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