A panel of federal appeals court judges Thursday upheld the conviction and 6 1/2-year prison sentence for the one-time girlfriend of former Orange County Mexican Mafia chief Peter Ojeda.
Suzie Rodriguez, 57, was convicted along with Ojeda of racketeering and criminal conspiracy to commit murder and assault with serious bodily injury in January 2016 and sentenced by U.S. District Judge James Selna in June 2016. Ojeda died in prison in June 2018.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Sidney R. Thomas, Kim McLane Wardlaw and Jacqueline H. Nguyen upheld Rodriguez’s conviction and sentence. Thomas dissented in part, however, saying he would remand sentencing back to Selna to consider other factors.
Rodriguez’s attorneys argued that Selna should have considered a “mitigating role adjustment” for her role in the conspiracy. She also argued that Rodriguez was unfairly punished for taking her case to trial instead of accepting a plea deal, which collapsed at the last minute.
“But rather than unfairly penalizing Rodriguez, the district court appropriately took account of the evidence presented at trial in reaching its final sentencing determination,” the judges wrote.
“The facts adduced at trial encompassed far more serious conduct than the factual basis for Rodriguez’s plea agreement, which notably omitted any reference to her involvement in a conspiracy to murder.”
The judges added that “Rodriguez was convicted of serious offenses — encompassing extended, integral involvement with the Mexican Mafia and underlying conspiracies to murder, main, extort, and traffic in drugs — and, to the extent she presented countervailing considerations like acceptance of responsibility and good deeds in her community, they were accounted for in her sentence.”
In fact, Selna had tentatively ruled he would sentence her to 88 months behind bars, but changed his mind after her statement and cut down her prison commitment by 10 months.
Thomas dissented only in part, saying Selna “erred in denying her a mitigating role adjustment without considering the factors set forth in the 2015 amendment to” the law.
Ojeda had been sentenced to 15 years in federal prison before Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was a secretary for the Mexican Mafia, meaning she helped its members in prison communicate to with their associates who were not in custody, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe McNally said at her trial.
The case against Ojeda stemmed from his incarceration in a Pennsylvania prison in 2006 when he turned to some close associates for help running the gang while he was imprisoned, McNally said at trial.
Ojeda’s prison sentence in 2006 should have ended his career, but instead he asked Armando “Hard Times” Moreno to head the Orange County branch of the gang when they met in April 2007, McNally said.
Ojeda also turned to Donald “Big Sluggo” Aguilar, who was “like a brother” to the mob boss, McNally said.
Aguilar, in turn, tabbed Glenn “Tigre” Navarro, who also had a “stellar Mexican Mafia resume,” having “spent most of his life in prison,” McNally said.
Rodriguez was instrumental in helping to keep open lines of communication between Ojeda and his gang, McNally said. Often, the two would talk in coded language on the phone or in handwritten letters, McNally said.
At some point, Moreno and Ojeda had a falling-out and a war broke out for control of the Orange County branch of the Mexican Mafia, McNally said.
Ojeda ordered hits on anyone associated with Moreno, and Moreno countered with his own list targeting supporters of “The Old Man,” McNally said.
Ojeda was losing ground in the war until he sent in reinforcements and ultimately prevailed, McNally said.
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