The lead and final defendant indicted in a 2014 firebombing attack intended to drive away African American residents from a Boyle Heights housing project has pleaded guilty, officials announced Tuesday.
Carlos Hernandez, 34, admitted to leading seven fellow members of the Big Hazard street gang in setting fire to four apartments at the Ramona Gardens development the night of May 11, 2014, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
African American families, including women and children sleeping at the time of the incident, lived in three of the units, authorities said. The group smashed the residences’ windows and hurled Molotov cocktails inside, causing multiple fiery explosions, according to officials.
Nobody was hurt as firefighters responded to several 911 calls and managed to quickly put out the flames, the L.A. Fire Department said at the time.
In a plea deal, Hernandez confessed to assigning the gang members roles and providing them with masks, a hammer and other items used in the firebombing.
“This defendant oversaw a scheme designed to send African-American residents a potentially deadly message – you are not welcome here,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.
A similar attack took place in Ramona Gardens in 1992, and for nearly two decades, black families avoided the project, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“For more than a generation, keeping blacks out of the housing complex seemed a point of pride for Big Hazard,” the paper reported.
Federal prosecutors have described the group as having “deep ties” to the Mexican Mafia.
Hernandez on Monday pleaded guilty to five felonies: conspiracy to violate civil rights, violent crime in aid of racketeering, using fire and carrying explosives to commit another federal felony, using and possessing a firearm in a crime of violence, and violating the Fair Housing Act.
With the charges carrying a minimum sentence of 15 years, Hernandez faces a statutory maximum penalty of life in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. He’s scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 7.
The seven other gang members previously pleaded guilty to federal hate crime and related offenses, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. They will be sentenced later in 2019.