A former gang member was sentenced Wednesday to 63 months in federal prison for firebombing the homes of black residents in the Boyle Heights area five years ago in an effort to drive them out of their neighborhood.
Jonathan “Pelon” Portillo, 24, of Los Angeles was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release after completing his prison term.
Portillo — the fourth of eight defendants to be sentenced in the case — pleaded guilty last year to four felonies, admitting that he conspired 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 public housing development. Portillo further admitted to committing a violent crime in aid of racketeering on behalf of the gang he subsequently renounced.
At the sentencing hearing, Portillo apologized “most of all to the victims I hurt. I know I caused them pain that should never be inflicted on another human being. All the victims wanted was a place to call home.”
Portillo’s attorney, Nghi Lam, told the court that his client “has completely disavowed the life he was formerly living.”
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.
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.
Prosecutors said the gang members — all of whom pleaded guilty – – violated the civil rights of the families, specifically the constitutional right to live in a home free from racial intimidation.
According to the indictment, 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 — told the attendees at the meeting 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 stated 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.
Previously, Edwin “Boogie” Felix, 27, was sentenced to 92 months in federal prison and co-ringleader Jose “Lil’ Moe” Saucedo, 25, was sentenced to nine years behind bars for planning and carrying out the firebombings. Another defendant was sentenced earlier this week, but records regarding his case have been sealed by the court.