Jury acquits 2 LA gang members charged with gang rape

SANTA ANA — A jury acquitted two members of a Los Angeles street gang of sex charges today, but one could be retried on racketeering and drug charges after an Orange County jury failed to reach a verdict and a mistrial was declared.

Lizandro Rincon and Armando Ramirez, who belong to the Florencia 13 gang in South Central and Huntington Park, were found innocent of participating in a gang rape of a 15-year-old runaway during a gang initiation.

However, Rincon was found guilty of possession of ammunition by a felon, which could result in a 10-year federal prison sentence.

Prosecutors said the mostly Latino gang engaged in murder, drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping, and that its members feuded with black gangs and would shoot black people even if they weren't in a gang.

Rincon was accused of authorizing — along with others — the execution of Florencia 13 gang member Johnny Ibarra because he killed a fellow gang member without permission, according to prosecutors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Hernandez said prosecutors will decide next week whether to try Rincon a third time on racketeering, conspiracy and drug charges.

The government's attempt to prosecute him on those same charges last year also led to a mistrial when a jury could not reach a verdict.

"The jury has rendered its verdict and we accept that,'' Hernandez said.

Rincon's attorney Correen Ferrentino noted that in both of Rincon's trials the jury was split. The jury this time was 10-2 against convicting Ramirez on the racketeering conspiracy and split on the other charges.

"We're a little disappointed there was no verdict,'' on some of the charges against Ramirez, his attorney Craig Wilke said. "But we're pleased with the acquittal. We were hoping for an acquittal on all counts.''

Ferrentino praised the jury, which began deliberations Tuesday and had hours of wire-tapped phone calls played back for them on Wednesday, but could not reach a verdict on several counts.

"I think this jury worked hard understanding the law,'' Ferrentino said.

The defense noted the government's case relied on "jailhouse snitches'' who cut deals with federal prosecutors to avoid lengthy prison sentences.

The rape allegations were part of Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering charges. Rincon was accused of ordering the victim to obey Ramirez in the alleged rape that also involved four other men who were not charged.

Wilke argued during the trial that the girl's testimony could not be trusted because she used drugs and had consensual sex with other gang members.

Wilke also said that on the day of the alleged rape, Ramirez was in a hospital in Mexico being treated for a broken leg he suffered in a car accident.

Hernandez acknowledged in closing arguments that the girl's dates did not match up, but said it was likely she was confused at the time about what day the rape happened.

Prosecutors have had more success in earlier prosecutions of the gang.

They charged 105 people in connection with their investigation of Florencia 13, with 94 pleading guilty, three dead and four listed as fugitives, according to court records.