Mexican Mafia gang leader convicted in extortion, drug trafficking cell

Mexican Mafia extortion and drug trafficking cell leader Patrick Ponce pleaded guilty early this week. A total of 31 members of the cell have been convicted.

Attorney General Jerry Brown said the convictions were a "fatal blow" to what his office described as "one of the most extensive, organized and violent extortion and drug trafficking operations in Imperial County history."

The cell extorted funds from other criminals, with enforcers attacking those who refused or failed to pay, according to the Attorney General's Office.

Ponce also ran a heroin and methamphetamine trafficking operation. Gang members with outstanding warrants would surrender to authorities in order to smuggle drugs hidden on the gang members into the Imperial County jail.

Wiretaps revealed Ponce ordering assaults, setting extortion rates and arranging drug sales.

The 31 gang members were originally indicted on 46 counts in August 2007. During the investigation, agents also seized guns, heroin and methamphetamine.

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