Multi-agency task force arrests gang shot-callers

JESSE B. GILL Redlands Daily Facts Staff Writer
Posted: 06/25/2009 09:37:53 PM PDT

florencelatattoosThere are fewer gang members on Redlands streets after an interdepartmental crackdown on three gangs Thursday.

A federal grand jury unsealed an 18-count indictment Thursday, charging 34 people with drug and gun violations.

The violations are connected to an alleged conspiracy to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine in San Bernardino and Redlands under the oversight of the Mexican Mafia.

Redlands police worked in a task force with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and the San Bernardino Police Department in an investigation that began in 2006.

The San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office filed its own charges against 54 alleged gang members and associates.

The task force – about 200 officers – served warrants and arrested 37 people Thursday.

“This indictment is the result of a highly-successful cooperative effort of federal and local law enforcement and the San Bernardino County Gang Impact Team,” said Stephanie McCaffrey, executive assistant United States Attorney.

Thirty-five of the people named in the district attorney’s indictment are already in custody.

The prolonged investigation focused on three gangs: the Westside Verdugos, the Northside Redlands gang and the Varrio Redlands gang. Like many Hispanic gangs, all three take cues from the Mexican Mafia, according to an FBI press release.

Among the arrested was Janet Hernandez, of Fontana. Hernandez is the wife of an imprisoned high-ranking Mexican Mafia member who has allegedly acted as the top shot-caller for the criminal organization, controlling drug sales in San Bernardino County, according to the FBI’s press release.

“This is the result of a long-term investigation trying to stop the shot-callers and major contributors of the drug distribution enterprise working in San Bernardino County,” said Daniel McMullen, special agent in charge of the Criminal Division of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.

Because many of the alleged gang members in the indictment are Redlands residents, the investigation and subsequent arrests will make a significant dent in Redlands gang activity, said Redlands Police Capt. Tom Fitzmaurice.

“The city of Redlands really benefitted from this operation,” he said. “These were very influential gang members. These are the people that have been working on our youth, trying to entice them into the gangs.”

The task force seized seven guns and a small amount of methamphetamine as they served the arrest warrants Thursday. Over the length of the entire investigation, the task force seized $36,000 in cash, more than six pounds of methamphetamine, two pounds of cocaine and 12 firearms, not including the drugs and guns seized Thursday.

“This was not a paper chase investigation, Fitzmaurice said. “They confronted armed gang members, there were vehicle pursuits. It was very dangerous activity.”

Fitzmaurice said the investigation helped police stop at least one ordered killing in February 2008.

“We gained some intelligence during this operation of an imminent shooting that was going to take place in our town,” he said.

Task force members were able to use the information to seize weapons and stop the killing from happening. Because the information was gleaned in the larger investigation, no arrests were made.

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