A high-level female associate for an imprisoned Mexican Mafia member was sentenced Monday to a dozen years behind bars for using her power on the streets of Pomona to solicit a murder and for participating in a carjacking attempt that resulted in a shooting.
Cheryl Perez-Castaneda, 58, of Pomona pleaded guilty in October to one federal count each of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and using a firearm during a crime of violence.
Prosecutors said Perez-Castaneda was a high-level associate of a Mexican Mafia cell run by Michael “Pomona Mike” Lerma, who exercised control over, and extorted drug proceeds from, Latino street gangs in and around Pomona, as well as from inmates at Calipatria State Prison in Imperial County.
Members of Lerma’s criminal enterprise also engaged in robberies, identity theft and fraud, drug trafficking, kidnapping and other acts of violence, according to a federal grand jury indictment. Lerma profited from those criminal activities when top-level female associates known as “senoras” deposited proceeds into his prison account, court documents allege.
One of those associates was Perez-Castaneda, who, from February 2012 to July 2016, engaged in the traditional and expected duties of a senora — collecting extortionate “taxes” from Pomona drug dealers, distributing the drug proceeds to the Mexican Mafia, including Lerma, who was incarcerated at Pelican Bay State Prison, and giving orders to others regarding the racketeering enterprise’s criminal activities, according to the indictment.
Perez-Castaneda also used her power as Lerma’s voice on the street to solicit the murder of a Los Angeles County Jail inmate in July 2013 in retaliation for the shooting of her son, according to prosecutors. When Perez-Castaneda was informed that the victim had been stabbed, but not killed, she sought and obtained the approval of a Mexican Mafia member to have the victim placed on a “green light” list, marking him for murder, the indictment says.
In July 2013, Perez-Castaneda also participated in the attempted theft of a Mercedes-Benz owned by another jail inmate. When the car’s caretaker refused to hand over the vehicle, one of Perez-Castaneda’s co-defendants shot him, according to court documents. Perez-Castaneda later laughed about the shooting on a recorded telephone call.
In March 2018, a federal grand jury charged Lerma and a dozen other defendants with multiple felonies, including racketeering conspiracy, violent crimes in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, and firearms offenses. So far, prosecutors have secured five guilty pleas in the case.
Trial for the other defendants, including Lerma and Jose Valencia Gonzalez, the alleged shooter in the July 2013 carjacking incident, is scheduled for May 11 in downtown Los Angeles.