Nearly 100 arrested in 'staggering' blow to Mexican Mafia, authorities say

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AP Photo/Nick Ut

Federal state and local law enforcement are shown during a news conference Wednesday July 13, 2011 in Santa Ana, Calif., where authorities announced dozens of people have been arrested in an Orange County crackdown on gangs with ties to the Mexican Mafia. The raids followed a 2 1/2-year investigation.

Federal authorities said they've dealt a "critical blow" to the Mexican Mafia's operation in Orange County on Wednesday.  

Federal and state authorities charged 99 alleged Orange County gang members with crimes including murder, drug trafficking and extortion, at least half or whom were associated with the Mexican Mafia prison gang. Police arrested dozens of men in early morning raids. Other defendants were already in custody.

U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte said a primary target of "Operation Black Flag" was Peter Ojeda, also known as "The Big Homie" and "El Senor."  Sixty-nine-year-old Ojeda is a member of the Mexican Mafia who has long controlled its operations in Orange County, though he's been in federal prison for five years.

"But obviously he did not get the message," said Birotte. "And thought that he could still run operations out on the street while in federal custody. We saw that and we raised our game up to indict him again with the hopes that a subsequent conviction will add more time and perhaps more administrative measures to make sure that he cannot have contact with the streets and exert his influence. We are not going away."

Birotte said Ojeda ordered "green lights" on local gang members who failed to pay drug profit taxes to the Mexican Mafia. A green light is physical discipline or monetary penalty. Ojeda allegedly placed one rival on what's called a "hard candy" list, meaning the individual was targeted for death.

Operation Black Flag got its title from one of the nicknames of an original suspect in the case, according to FBI Special Agent Doug Price, and was a joint effort of the FBI, ATF, Orange County Sheriff's and Santa Ana Police departments, Department of Corrections as well as state and federal prosecutors..

The multi-agency Santa Ana Gang Task Force targeted a variety of other Orange County gangs, including the well known Forming Kaos gang that allegedly claims Costa Mesa as its drug territory.

"Gang members commit crimes and go to prison and they want to be protected while in prison and that protection comes at a cost," Birotte said. "And some of that cost is that when you get out, you will pay taxes to the Mexican Mafia."

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido praised the joint effort.

"Today we are safer and better off," he said. "Without this cooperation, we just couldn't do this. The bad guys are so good now (at evading authorities) ... Unless we cooperate, we just couldn't do what we were able to do today.''

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