Seven of the Defendants Found Guilty of Federal Racketeering Offense
LAWFUEL – Law News Network – Nine members and associates of the Vineland Boys street gang were convicted today of charges contained in a federal racketeering indictment that outlines a series of narcotics, weapons and violent crime offenses. Seven of the defendants were convicted of participating in a racketeering enterprise that, among other things, was responsible for the murder of a Burbank Police Officer.
The guilty verdicts conclude the first trial stemming from Operation Silent Night, an investigation that culminated last year with a wide-ranging indictment that alleged violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. A total of 49 defendants were named in the indictment. As a result of today’s jury verdicts, a total of 36 defendants have now been convicted of various federal charges.
The evidence presented during a 2½-month trial showed that the Vineland Boys is a powerful street gang with cliques operating in parts of Burbank, North Hollywood, Sun Valley and Palmdale. The gang had an extensive drug-trafficking network, which distributed cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana throughout the Los Angeles area, as well as in Hawaii, Indiana and the East Coast of the United States.
In addition to the sale of narcotics, the gang engaged in acts of violence to protect its turf. The indictment specifically linked the gang to four murders, including the fatal shooting of Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka and the attempted murder of his partner, Detective Greg Campbell.
The defendants found guilty today are:
Rafael Yepiz, 35, of Reseda;
Manuel Yepiz, 31, of Shadow Hills;
Mariano Meza, 34, of Sun Valley;
Jesus Contreras, 33, of Sun Valley;
Gilberto Carrasco, 27, of Sun Valley;
Ernesto Orozco Mendez, 39, of Sylmar;
Francisco Zambrano, 27, of Mission Hills
Jose Luis Mejia, 37, of Bakersfield; and
Sergio Mejia, 39, of Bakersfield.
Everyone (with the exception of the Mejia brothers, who were not charged in the RICO count) were found guilty of violating RICO, a charge that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison. All nine were found guilty of participating in a conspiracy to distribute narcotics, as well as various substantive drug-trafficking charges, that carry a potential life sentence. Zambrano was convicted in the attempted murder of four people, including three members of the United States Marines Corps.
Both Rafael Yepiz and Sergio Mejia face mandatory life sentences. Zambrano faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. The remaining defendants each face mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years in prison.
United States District Judge John F. Walter, who presided over the trial, scheduled a January 8 sentencing hearing for the nine defendants.
“This is the first time in Southern California that the RICO statute has been used to dismantle the leadership of a entire street gang,” said United States Attorney Debra Wong Yang. “As criminal organizations become more sophisticated and more international in scope, we will apply whatever methods are necessary to end their senseless acts of violence. The RICO statute is an important tool the federal government case use to make dramatic changes in our neighborhoods.”
Ralph W. Partridge, DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge in Los Angeles, said: “Street drug gangs infest our communities and spread violence and death. DEA will continue to join forces with our federal, state and local counterparts to attack the violent criminal drug organizations that plague our communities. Today’s verdicts are an example of the success we can achieve by working together to make our communities safer.”
Debra King, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division in Los Angeles, stated: “The Vineland Boys criminal organization terrorized members of our community through violence, intimidation and narcotics trafficking. The scope of this investigation demonstrates that significant cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement officials is an effective tool in attacking large criminal enterprises. The guilty verdicts in the trial of the Vineland Boys is indicative of our resolve to bring these criminals to justice.”
Six other defendants named in the indictment are pending trial, including three alleged gang members who face the death penalty if convicted of a charge related to the murder of a 16-year-old girl who had testified against a Vineland Boys member.
This case is the product of an 18-month investigation by High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (HIDTA), which is made up of agents and officers from several agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Los Angeles Police Department and IRS-Criminal Investigation Division. The Burbank Police Department and the Glendale Police Department participated in the investigation.
CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Mark A. Young
Assistant United States Attorney Peter A. Hernandez
Assistant United States Attorney David P. Kowal