LOS ANGELES –– The leader of the Oxnard-based Colonia Chiques street gang was sentenced this afternoon to life without parole in federal prison, plus an additional 55-year consecutive term, for his conviction on a host of narcotics and weapons offenses, including leading a continuing criminal enterprise (CCE).
Luis Manuel Tapia, 39, of Ojai, the leader of the Colonia Chiques and a validated associate of the Mexican Mafia prison gang, was sentenced by United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II.
At the conclusion of a trial in September, Tapia was found guilty of each of the 26 federal charges filed against him.
Tapia had previously sustained two narcotics convictions – one involving cocaine, and the second involving methamphetamine – in Ventura County Superior Court. Under federal law, the third drug trafficking conviction last year in federal court brought a mandatory life sentence. The CCE count – in conjunction with special findings made by the jury, such as the fact that the enterprise involved at least a kilogram of actual methamphetamine and that defendant was the organization’s principal leader – also carried a mandatory life sentence.
Tapia was the leader of the Colonia Chiques and was one of Ventura County’s most notorious criminals, according to a sentencing memorandum filed by federal prosecutors. Tapia “was a prolific and versatile poly-drug (methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine) trafficker [who] owed a significant part of his authority to his direct connection to the Mexican Mafia,” according to the court document that discusses Tapia’s importation of high-quality narcotics from Mexico that allowed him to engage in transactions worth as much as $1 million.
The evidence presented during a two-week trial in federal court in Los Angeles showed that Tapia was deeply involved in the business of running the Colonia Chiques and was personally involved in the sale of firearms and narcotics. During a series of secretly recorded meetings with Tapia, he described himself as the “CEO” of his enterprise, comparing it to Walmart because he supplied a wide array of contraband and always guaranteed his product’s quality. In October 2011, Tapia orchestrated a $200,000 drug transaction that involved approximately 10 pounds of nearly pure methamphetamine.
During the investigation, authorities conducted an undercover operation in Las Vegas in which an undercover FBI agent posed as a senior member of the Italian mob and negotiated to have Tapia supply the Las Vegas syndicate of the Italian mob with up to 20 pounds of highly pure methamphetamine every month.
The jury also heard Tapia, in a video recording, bragging that his heroin was so strong that it had “killed six people” – and that this was a “good advertisement” for his drug operation. Tapia also explained how his high-quality methamphetamine – which lab results confirmed was often 100 percent pure – was obtained from Mexican drug cartels. In another video recording, Tapia was heard directing a large assembly of younger Colonia Chiques gang members to monopolize their drug selling territory, to seek out and kill informants – something Tapia had bragged he had previously done personally – and to heed the directives of the Mexican Mafia.
Tapia was specifically found guilty of leading a continuing criminal enterprise that distributed at least 1,000 grams of methamphetamine, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to engage in the business of dealing in firearms without a license, 10 substantive counts of drug distribution (involving heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine), three counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, seven counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and the illegal transfer of a fully-automatic machinegun. Counting the machinegun, investigators seized 19 firearms from Tapia, including an AR-15 assault rifle, a custom built AK-47 with a bayonet, and a pistol grip sawed-off shotgun.
Four of Tapia’s co-defendants – Diana Zamora, Edgar Aguilar, Roger Armendariz and Jaime Cardenas – pleaded guilty to conspiring traffic narcotics and/or firearms and were sentenced to up to 10 years in federal prison. An unknown male, known only as “Pancho,” who allegedly supplied narcotics to Tapia, is a fugitive believed to be in Mexico.
Tapia’s sentencing concludes the second phase of a three-phase investigation called Operation “Supernova,” which was conducted by the Ventura County Federal Violent Crimes Task Force – made up of agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and officers with the Oxnard Police Department.