Three Orange County Mexican Mafia members and 28 of their associates have been charged with several federal offenses in a grand jury indictment, officials announced Wednesday.

The indictment includes charges of racketeering, murder and attempted murder, conspiring to traffic narcotics, distributing, and possessing with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, using a firearm to cause a death and other firearm charges, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Officials say the gang, known as “La Eme” preyed on vulnerable communities using fear and violence, controlled the majority of street gangs throughout Orange County and received “taxes” paid by those gangs to allow them to deal drugs in that area.

The indictment alleges that the Mexican Mafia was comprised of mostly senior members of Latino gangs operating in Southern California and in state prisons. Members allegedly divided control of various areas in Southern California with members in control of overseeing criminal activities in that territory and receiving “taxes” paid by gas to allow them to deal drugs.

The O.C. Mexican Mafia also allegedly engaged in drug distribution in and out of prisons and jails, and maintained authority over Latino street gangs through violence.

From sometime in 2016 to at least this month, defendants Johnny Martinez, Robert Aguirre and Dennis Ortiz were allegedly the O.C. Mexican Mafia members in charge of criminal activities in Orange County and within prisons and jails in the county, the indictment alleges.

Defendants Omar Mejia, Miguel Jose Alvarado, Luis Heriberto Vasquez, Michael Cooper and Abraham Guajardo allegedly held positions of shot-callers or mouthpieces for Martinez, Aguirre, and Ortiz, while defendant Robert Martinez held a position of authority within the county jail as Johnny Martinez’s representative, officials said.

Additionally, defendant Brenda Vanessa Campos Martinez served as a secretary for Johnny Martinez, and defendant Danielle Canales served in a similar capacity for Johnny Martinez and Cooper.

Violent crimes alleged against the O.C. Mexican Mafia include:

  • The Jan. 19, 2017 armed robbery and fatal shooting of R.R.
  • The Aug. 21, 2017 fatal shooting of R.V., who was shot seven times in the back of the head and body and left dead on the street in Orange
  • The Aug. 5, 2017 attempted murder of defendant Munoz, who had fallen out of favor with the O.C. Mexican Mafia and was shot seven times;
  • The Dec. 1, 2017 attempted murder of D.D., a representative of a street gang, who was allegedly abusing his power and authority within the O.C. Mexican Mafia
  • The Dec. 12, 2017 attempted murder of E.O., an O.C. Mexican Mafia associate incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison, believed to have violated the O.C. Mexican Mafia’s code by warning individuals that they were targeted by the O.C. Mexican Mafia, and suffered multiple injuries, including puncture wounds to his torso
  • The Dec. 25, 2017 attempted murder of R.M. for apparently disrespecting defendant Johnny Martinez
  • The July 29, 2020 attempted murder of F.B., a member of a street gang incarcerated at the Theo Lacy Facility, who was targeted because he supposedly claimed that he would speak to authorities about the Mexican Mafia, and whose throat was slit
  • Two murder attempts on Jan. 5, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2019, of defendant Cooper, who had fallen out of favor with defendants Johnny Martinez and Aguirre. In one incident he was stabbed multiple times in the head and back area, and in the second was cut in the throat and face.
An image taken from a doorbell-type video before a homicide involving the Orange County Mexican detailed in a federal indictment is seen in a photo provided by the FBI on April 27, 2022.
An image taken from a doorbell-type video before a homicide involving the Orange County Mexican detailed in a federal indictment is seen in a photo provided by the FBI on April 27, 2022.

During the yearslong investigation, dubbed “Operation Night Owl,” authorities conducted undercover purchases of meth and heroin from O.C. Mexican Mafia associates who were allegedly selling the drugs on behalf of Johnny Martinez and the gang.

Twenty-one of the 31 defendants charged in the indictment were already in custody, while nine were arrested Wednesday morning.

Those arrested are expected to be arraigned Wednesday, and those already in custody will appear in court once all of the defendants are in federal custody, officials said.

Some of the charges can carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Several federal and local law enforcement agencies are investigating the case.

“The Mexican Mafia allegedly preyed on vulnerable communities through fear, violence, and intimidation,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s criminal division.

“The Mexican Mafia in Orange County controls the majority of local gangs and rules by threatening violence and exacting violence on their enemies or against their own members who don’t follow strict rules,” said Kristi K. Johnson, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “This indictment is the latest in our continuing joint efforts to target gangs and drug networks that fuel the violence in our communities.”