A federal grand jury indicted 10 alleged Northern California gang members for conspiring to commit extortion by force and conspiring to engage in drug trafficking following an intensive five-year probe by special agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
According to the indictment unsealed Monday, seven of the defendants conspired to extort drug dealers while the other three defendants conspired to engage in trafficking methamphetamine.
The defendants charged with extortion are: Velarmino Escobar-Ayala, aka Meduza; Tomas Rivera, aka Profugo; Ismael Alvarenga-Rivera, aka Casper; Willfredo Edgardo-Ayala, aka Chino; Jose David Abrego-Galdamez, aka Largo; Melvin Lopez, aka Sharky; and Alexander Martinez-Flores, aka Pocar.
Specifically, the indictment alleges the defendants conspired to obtain property from drug dealers in Santa Cruz by threatening violence against the dealers and other persons close to them. Further, the indictment alleges the defendants planned to engage in the extortion by threatening force, violence, and fear to obtain money they had demanded.
The indictment alleges the three remaining defendants: Gerber Morales, aka Choco; Emilio Escobar-Albarnga, aka Diablo; and Josue Alcedis Escobar-Cerritos, aka Penguino, were engaged in a drug trafficking conspiracy. According to court documents, from March 2015 until the present, the three defendants conspired to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of a substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine.
According to court papers filed Monday by the government, the charges stem from a multi-year investigation into the activities of a violent Santa Cruz street gang known as Santa Cruz Salvatrucha Locos 13 (SCSL13). Court documents state “SCSL13 is a subset of the larger Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) gang organization.”
The government alleges the defendants are all either active members or recruits performing criminal tasks on behalf of SCSL13.
The defendants were arrested Monday morning as part of a multi-agency criminal enforcement operation led by HSI that included more than 200 local and federal law enforcement personnel. The coordinated arrests and searches took place in three cities – Santa Cruz, Watsonville and Daly City.
The defendants made their initial appearance Monday before US Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins. The extortion conspiracy count is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The charge related to the distribution of methamphetamine carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison, a maximum prison term of 40 years, and a fine of up to $5 million.