The final five defendants in a series of cases targeting a dangerous prison gang involved in drug trafficking and violent crime throughout the Central Valley pled guilty earlier this week, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner announced.
The five -- Calixtro Israel Sanchez, 26, of Hanford; Jose Velez, 31, of Delano; Felipe Ramirez, 33, of Visalia; Christopher Medrano, 32, of Hanford; and Florentino Acosta, of Mexico -- pled guilty to drug trafficking offenses, Wagner said, the top prosecutor in the Department of Justice's Eastern District of California. A jury trial that was scheduled for March 11 has been vacated.
A total of 39 defendants have pled guilty to federal offenses in the coordinated cases targeting members or associates of the Nuestra Familia, a Hispanic prison gang whose members exert control over street-level Norteño gang members involved in drug trafficking and violent crime throughout the Valley, Wagner said.
"Numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in this region came together to take on one of the most dangerous gangs in California," Wagner said. "That battle will continue, but the guilty pleas taken this week are a major step forward in protecting the communities of the Central Valley from the violent drug traffickers of the Nuestra Familia."
According to court documents, during 2009 and 2010, the Nuestra Familia trafficked in methamphetamine, distributing the drugs and collecting debts in Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Madera, Merced, Kern and Stanislaus counties.
The gang also obtained large shipments of methamphetamine from Mexico and distributed it among Nuestra Familia regiments throughout the state and elsewhere.
The five who pled guilty this week will be sentenced in April. They face a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $4 million fine.
Of those already sentenced, their sentences ranged from 10 and 16 years in prison, and 17 received sentences from four and 10 years in prison. Parole has been abolished in the federal system, and all inmates are required to serve at least 85% of their prison time.
A number of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies helped investigate and prosecute the cases.
"Organized prison gangs and other criminals who traffic drugs are responsible for increased violence in our communities," said Joseph M. Riehl, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "This investigation is a prime example of teamwork and superior collaboration among many law enforcement agencies with a successful investigative conclusion and prosecution."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, email@example.com or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.