The head of the Orange County branch of the Mexican Mafia was sentenced to 14 years in a federal prison in Pennsylvania in 2006 for racketeering, but he kept on running his criminal enterprise here with the help of others, including a longtime friend, who later became his lover, a federal prosecutor told jurors Friday.Peter Ojeda’s attorney, however, said his 73-year-old client has been under such tight scrutiny over the past decade while in custody that law enforcement would have to be “completely incompetent” to allow him such free rein over the two dozen street gangs here.
When Ojeda was sent to the penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, he turned to some close associates for help running things while he was away, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph McNally said.
“This is a case about power and control,” McNally said. “(Ojeda) refused to give up power and control he has had over the Mexican Mafia in Orange County for decades.”
The Mexican Mafia is a “supergang” that extorts about 24 local street gangs to pay “taxes,” or a cut of their ill-gained profits, but it also provides “protection” for associates when they end up behind bars, McNally said. The Mexican Mafia also can help settle a beef, McNally said.
“Drug dealers can’t call the police, so they call the Mexican Mafia,” McNally said.
More than 30,000 gang members are under the Mexican Mafia umbrella in Southern California, McNally said. About 3,000 of them are in Orange County, he added.
Getting sent to Lewisburg “should have been the end of his criminal career,” McNally said.
Instead, Ojeda, who is charged with racketeering and violent crimes in the aid of racketeering, turned to Armando “Hard Times” Moreno, who he met in April 2007 on his way to Pennsylvania in a San Bernardino detention center, McNally said.
Moreno, a gang member from Garden Grove, had a “stellar resume” for the Mexican Mafia and was “on the cusp” of being a “made” member of the gang, meaning anyone else would have to get permission to “greenlight” him for murder or place him on a “hard candy” list of associates who have run afoul of the rules and are targets for assault or death, McNally said.
When he was just 18 Moreno was convicted in a murder, but it was reversed on appeal, but he ended up back behind bars following a string of armed robberies, McNally said.
Moreno gained status as a “made” man in the mafia soon after meeting Ojeda, McNally said. One of his first tasks was to hunt down another gang member nicknamed “Muscle Head” and kill him, the prosecutor said.
The gang member managed to stay one step ahead of his killers, prompting Ojeda in one wiretapped phone call to order hits on anyone associated with the target, McNally said.
Ojeda also turned to Donald “Big Sluggo” Aguilar, who was “like a brother” to the mob boss, McNally said.
“Sluggo was the guy, the keyholder here in Orange County,” 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.
Navarro, Aguilar and Moreno are expected to testify in the trial, McNally said.
Co-defendant Suzie 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, the prosecutor said. Some inmates even put “kites,” or messages, in their rectum to sneak them past guards, McNally said.
At some point Moreno and Ojeda had a falling out and war broke out for control of the Orange County “branch” of the Mexican Mafia, McNally said.
Ojeda orders hits on anyone associated with Moreno, and Moreno countered with his own “hard candy” 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.
Ojeda’s attorney, Craig Wilke, denied the prosecution’s allegations.
“For the past 10 years, Peter Ojeda has been in the custody of the U.S. Marshal and the marshal has Mr. Ojeda isolated,” Wilke said. “Since 2005, law enforcement has been listening to every phone cal Mr. Ojeda makes, reading every letter he writes or receives and monitors every visitors he receives.”
If what the prosecution claims were true, the authorities “would have to be completely incompetent,” Wilke said.
“No, he did not conspire to murder or assault anybody,” Wilke said. “You will hear no credible evidence in this case that Mr. Ojeda agreed to participate in a racketeering conspiracy or agreed to murder or assault anybody to maintain control of a criminal enterprise.”
Ojeda does not run the local Mexican Mafia anymore, but his name still has some cachet, Wilke said. Other gang members use Ojeda as a “shield” or a “sword” to suit their purposes, he added.
Aguilar, for instance, is a “lifelong heroin addict. Peter Ojeda’s name was how he put heroin in his arm,” Wilke said.
Wilke told jurors to be skeptical of the crooks who will testify in the trial in the hopes they get breaks from law enforcement.
“Liars come in all shapes and sizes,” Wilke said. “People always have a reason for what they do, especially liars.”
Wilke conceded that his client was “no model citizen,” but he was not guilty and he accused Santa Ana Officer Gonzo Gallardo of using Ojeda so he could get a multi-jurisdictional task force involved in cracking down on Orange County street gangs.
Rodriguez’s attorney, Karren Kenney, said her client was the type to “give you the shirt off her back,” and had a reputation as a “helper,” so her “abusive” husband, who was a Mexican Mafia street gang member would seek her out to find out why he ended up on a “hard candy” list.
Rodriguez took in Ojeda’s ailing younger brother, Eddie, when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Kenney said. Ojeda was grateful and the two found their friendship becoming romantic, Kenney said.
Ojeda was kind to her and helped “build her up,” something she was used to in her troubled marriage, Kenney said.
Investigators seized about 90 love letters from her home and retrieved 1,500 pages of emailed love notes between Rodriguez and Ojeda, Kenney said.
“Most of the testimony you’re going to hear in here will have nothing to do with her,” Kenney said.
“The government has to prove she had a specific intent to agree to commit a murder, to join a criminal conspiracy,” Kenney said. “But that’s not what the evidence is going to show you.”
— City News Service
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