In what U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. called a "staggering and comprehensive blow" to the Mexican Mafia, federal and state authorities today announced that 99 people face federal charges in a takedown of gangs in and out of prison.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers fanned out across Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties today to serve search and arrest warrants as part of Operation Black Flag, which started in October 2008. The investigation draws its moniker from one of the nicknames of an original suspect in the case, according to FBI Special Agent Doug Price.
Operation Black Flag is an organized effort of law enforcement from the FBI, Orange County Sheriff's and Santa Ana Police departments, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, Department of Corrections and state and federal prosecutors.
Twenty-six of the 57 federal defendants were arrested this morning, while 25 were already in custody and six are still being sought.
Eight of the defendants facing charges in state court were arrested today, with three still at large, according to authorities. Orange County prosecutors have filed charges against 26 defendants related to conspiracies to kill and assault seven inmates in the Orange County Jail system.
There are a total of 99 people facing charges from federal grand jury indictments and in the state courts. Fifty-seven members of the Mexican Mafia and the Costa Mesa-based Forming Kaos street gang are named in five federal indictments handed up last month, authorities said.
One main focus of the indictments is alleged Mexican Mafia leader Peter Ojeda, who investigators say still calls shots from federal prison, where he has been incarcerated since his conviction for racketeering in 2006.
"We stand here this morning united in one message: No gang member is untouchable or unreachable,'' Birotte said at a news conference at Santa Ana police headquarters.
Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido applauded federal, state, county and city law enforcement for teaming up.
"Today we are safer and better off," he said. "Without this cooperation, we just couldn't do this. The bad guys are so good now (at evading authorities) ... Unless we cooperate, we just couldn't do what we were able to
Price said it was a "historic" investigation because it focused on the gang organization within the prisons as well as the streets. The five federal indictments "paint a chilling portrait of violence and mayhem" the gangs are responsible for in and out of prison, Birotte said.