LOS ANGELES – Early Thursday morning, law enforcement authorities arrested an alleged gang member who had been a fugitive for nearly two years after the unsealing of a federal racketeering indictment that charges him in the attempted murder of an undercover Whittier Police Officer.
Frankie Vasquez, 39, of Carson, was arrested in connection with an indictment that charges him and 50 other members and associates of the Canta Ranas organization, a wide-ranging criminal enterprise which operates primarily in Santa Fe Springs and Whittier under the control of a member of the Mexican Mafia.
The arrest of Vasquez was the result of efforts by agents and officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the United States Marshals Service, the Whittier Police Department, the Montebello Police Department, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. HSI’s Special Response Team and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives provided assistance.
The racketeering indictment, which was unsealed in June 2016 and superseded in October 2017 to add additional charges, alleges that an incarcerated member of the Mexican Mafia prison gang exerts control over the Canta Ranas street gang and other gangs, and that he received compensation in the form of “rent” or “taxes” generated by drug trafficking and other offenses committed in gang territory.
The first superseding indictment also alleges that Vasquez, a member of the Varrio Keystone street gang and a key supplier of narcotics to the Canta Ranas organization, along with another defendant who was part of the Canta Ranas organization, attempted to murder a detective with the Whittier Police Department when they shot at him in his unmarked vehicle while he was conducting undercover surveillance as part of a narcotics investigation.
For his role in the criminal enterprise, Vasquez is charged with conspiring to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), conspiring to commit a violent crime in aid of racketeering (VICAR), possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and drug trafficking, as well as conspiring to distribute narcotics and commit money laundering. When law enforcement apprehended Vasquez on Thursday, they found in his possession a copy of the indictment, with certain sections highlighted.
“We will be relentless in tracking down dangerous fugitives and bringing them to justice,” said United States Attorney Nicola T. Hanna. “The criminal organization charged in this indictment is responsible for myriad crimes of violence and drug trafficking. Apprehending fugitives linked to dangerous organizations is part of our overall commitment to making our communities safer.”
At his arraignment Thursday afternoon, Vazquez was ordered held without bond.
The first superseding indictment specifically charges a conspiracy to violate RICO and a second conspiracy to distribute narcotics, which includes allegations of smuggling controlled substances, including heroin, into county jails. All 51 defendants were charged in both of these conspiracy counts.
The first superseding indictment includes nine VICAR counts, including one count alleging the alleged attack on the Whittier Police officer. Various defendants are additionally charged in 11 drug trafficking charges, 18 firearms offenses and a conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Most of the 51 defendants charged in the RICO indictment have been broken into five groups for purposes of trial. The first trial is scheduled to begin on August 7.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The RICO conspiracy count carries a statutory maximum penalty of life in federal prison. The VICAR charges carry varying penalties, with Vasquez facing a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years for his specific VICAR charge, and the narcotics charges all carry mandatory minimum sentences of either five or 10 years in prison.
The three-year investigation into the Canta Ranas organization was called Operation “Frog Legs” and resulted in the seizure of narcotics and 51 firearms Operation Frog Legs was conducted by the Southern California Drug Task Force, which is led by the Drug Enforcement Administration as part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) initiative. Participants on the Task Force include personnel from HSI, the Whittier Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, IRS Criminal Investigation and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Office of Correctional Safety, Special Service Unit.
The RICO case resulting from Operation Frog Legs is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Carol Alexis Chen, Victoria A. Degtyareva and Jamie A. Lang of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.