A Latino gang member was sentenced Monday to nine years behind bars for planning and carrying out the firebombings of homes of black residents in the Boyle Heights area five years ago in an effort to drive them out of the defendant’s turf.
Jose “Lil’ Moe” Saucedo — the first of eight defendants to be sentenced in the case — will also serve three years of supervised release following his term in federal prison. Prosecutors had recommended a 15-year sentence.
“This was a terribly violent crime,” U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder said from the bench, adding that Saucedo knew the victims were black and that elderly people and children were sleeping at the time of the attack.
Saucedo, a hazardous materials symbol tattooed on the back of his head, apologized in few words to the court, his family and the victims.
Snyder initially imposed a 13-year sentence that included enhancements for the vulnerability of the victims, racial animus and the defendant’s “aggravating role” in the scheme, but the judge subsequently took four years off the total for time already served.
The 25-year-old defendant pleaded guilty last year to four felonies, admitting to conspiring to violate the civil rights of the black families, specifically the constitutional right to live in a residence free from “injury, intimidation and interference based on race.”
He also pleaded guilty to using explosives and fire to injure, intimidate and interfere with the residents because of their race and because they were living in the Ramona Gardens Housing Development. Saucedo further acknowledged committing a violent crime in aid of racketeering on behalf of his gang.
Saucedo acted as a supervisor of one of two groups of gang members that carried out the attack and collected the bottles that were filled with gasoline and tossed through residents’ windows, the judge said.
In the early morning hours of May 12, 2014, eight members of the street gang, which claims Ramona Gardens as its territory, prepared Molotov cocktails, smashed the windows of four apartments and threw the lit firebombs into the units. All the defendants have pleaded guilty.
Three of the four targeted apartments were occupied by black families, including women and children, who were sleeping at the time of the unprovoked attacks.
The scheme’s ringleader, Carlos “Rider” Hernandez, ordered his co-defendants to meet at a location in his gang’s so-called territory on May 11, 2014 — Mother’s Day — to prepare for the night’s attack. At the meeting, Hernandez distributed materials to be used during the firebombing, including disguises, gloves and other materials.
Hernandez — who faces sentencing in October — explained that the order for the racially motivated attack had come from the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that controls the majority of Hispanic gangs in Southern California, prosecutors said.
The indictment also states that Hernandez told the others to break the victims’ windows, allowing the Molotov cocktails to make a clean entry, ignite the firebombs and throw them into the victims’ units in order to maximize damage. One of the victims, a mother sleeping on her couch with her infant child in her arms, narrowly missed being struck by one of the weapons.
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