Six people who authorities say are linked to the violent, Mexican Mafia-linked street gang known as the Canta Ranas Organization have been convicted of racketeering and drug trafficking charges, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
The criminal convictions were handed down in two jury trials — one of which ended this week, federal prosecutors said. The Cantas Ranas primarily operate in Santa Fe Springs and Whittier, and those convicted range from ages 56 to 25.
“This dangerous organization caused misery in several communities by regularly engaging in acts of violence, drug trafficking and other criminal acts,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement from the DOJ.
Four of the defendants were convicted in a trial that ended on Aug. 27 and the other two were convicted this week. They all face maximum possible sentences of life in federal prison, with four facing minimum prison terms of 10 years and one facing a minimum of five years.
A senior member of the Canta Ranas gang known as “Boxer,” 56-year-old Enrique Holguin, is already currently serving a life sentence for murder. He was convicted in the August trial.
According to federal prosecutors, Holguin was in direct communication with the gang’s leader, David Gavaldon, who is also a member of the Mexican Mafia. Holguin played a key role in carrying out the gang’s activities by setting up a group of Mexican Mafia-affiliated inmates for controlling illegal activities — called a “mesa” — at the California Institute for Men in Chino, prosecutors said.
He was also convicted in the attempted assault of a fellow inmate at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown L.A. The inmate being targeted was believed to be an informant for law enforcement, prosecutors said. For that crime, Holguin was found guilty of committing a violent act in aid of racketeering.
The other three gang members convicted in the August trial are 31-year-old Donald Goulet, also known as “Wacky,” 33-year-old Emanuel Higuera, who’s also known as “Blanco” and 25-year-old Juan Nila.
Goulet was described by federal prosecutors as a “foot soldier” who committed violent crimes, trafficked drugs and collected extortionate “taxes” on behalf of the Canta Ranas and Gavaldon himself. He was also involved with helping Gavaldon spread the gang’s territory into the Riverside area, prosecutors said.
During one home invasion robbery committed with a co-conspirator, Goulet tied up the victims with duct tape at gun point as the pair ransacked the home, according to federal prosecutors. For all the crimes, Goulet was found guilty of conspiracy racketeering charges, along with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Meanwhile, Higuera was actually part of another gang called the Brown Brotherhood, which was also controlled by Gavaldon, according to prosecutors. But he was convicted of trafficking drugs on behalf of the Canta Ranas. Along with racketeering charges, he was found guilty of methamphetamine-related offenses — including one that involved him attempting to assault law enforcement officers, prosecutors said.
Nila pleaded guilty to racketeering and drug trafficking conspiracy charges on the second day of the August trial. That trial ended after three weeks of testimony.
The trial that ended this week delivered convictions against 40-year-old Monica Rodriguez, also known as “Smiley,” and Alexis Jaimez, 30, who is also known as “Lex,” according to prosecutors.
Acting as the “eyes and ears on the street” for Cantas Ranas gang leader Gavaldon, Rodriguez was a so-called secretary for him, federal prosecutors said in a news release. She was seen asking Gavaldon to order the death of another gang member in video that was shown to the jury, prosecutors said. At the time, she was meeting with Gavaldon while he was housed at Pelican Bay State Prison, the only supermax prison in California.
Jaimez was described as a “foot soldier” by federal prosecutors, who said she was involved in a gang-related assault that left the victim with permanent, severe injuries. Evidence of her involvement in that assault was presented at trial. Prosecutors also said she was also part of a “failed scheme to smuggle drugs into a California state prison.”
All of the defendant are expected to be sentenced later this year by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner.
The convictions stem from a federal grand jury indictment that charged 48 defendants in June 2016. There’s still another 38 defendants, and beginning in November, they will all be scheduled to go to trial in groups.
The larger case is the result of Operation “Frog Legs,” a three-year investigation that seized dozens of firearms and pounds of narcotics including methamphetamine. The various agencies involved in assisting that investigation include U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the IRS, the Whittier Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Southern California Drug Task Force — which is led by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
No other details were released by the DOJ in a news release.