Four Tied to `Mafia' Take Pleas
Four tied to `Mafia' take pleas
Mike Cruz and Joe Nelson, Staff Writers
Article Launched: 04/17/2008 11:25:59 PM PDT
SAN BERNARDINO - Two Mexican Mafia gang members and a pair of San Manuel tribal members were among a group who took plea bargains Thursday stemming from a San Bernardino narcotics sweep in 2006.
After weeks of negotiations with prosecutors, reputed Mexican Mafia shotcaller Salvador Hernandez and his brother, Alfred Hernandez, each pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder with a street gang enhancement.
Salvador Hernandez, 43, will receive 10 years in state prison, under the terms of the plea bargain. His 39-year-old younger brother will be sentenced to nine years.
Tribal members Stacy Nunez, 25, and her brother Erik Barajas, 35, will each receive five years probation and some jail time.
The defendants were among a group of six people who took plea bargains Thursday in Superior Court in San Bernardino.
The case is connected to a narcotics sweep in December 2006 targeting a local drug ring, which authorities said was overseen by the Mexican Mafia and included San Manuel tribal members.
Prosecutors were confident they would have achieved convictions had the case gone to trial.
They said they hoped the sentences will be a successful step toward reducing crime on the reservation.
"We don't want folks associating with or otherwise bringing the criminal element onto or into businesses concerned with the San Manuel tribe," said Deputy District Attorney Douglas Poston, who prosecuted the case.
The attempted-murder count is related to the attempts by the Hernandez brothers, Nunez and Barajas - as a group - to have an unidentified man killed in 2006, prosecutors said.
The tribe had no input on the plea bargains and sentences, which Poston said were appropriate.
Defense lawyer Albert Perez said his client, Nunez, faced 21 years to life in prison if the case had gone to trial.
"She's happy it's over," Perez said, after the court proceedings. "She's not happy she had to plead guilty, but she's happy it's over."
Nunez pleaded guilty to attempted murder with a street gang enhancement, transportation of a controlled substance for sale, and possession of drugs in the jail.
Perez said he was unsure what impact, if any, the guilty plea and sentence would have on Nunez's status with the tribe.
Nunez will serve her one year of jail time via electronic monitoring at her home, if approved by the court.
Also a tribal member, Barajas pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon with a street gang enhancement.
He will have to serve 180 days, which could also be done through electronic monitoring.
Salvador Hernandez's lawyer Catherine Fox said her client wanted the resolution.
James Taylor, who represented Alfred Hernandez, said his client was facing up to life in prison, and now may be able to go home after seven years in prison.
"It was something they could all digest," Taylor said. "I wouldn't say that they're happy."
Another defendant, Jeanette Amaya, 51, also pleaded guilty to charges involving controlled substances and a street gang enhancement. She will receive five years probation in the drug case and not receive any credit for the near six months she already served.
Sentencing for all six defendants will be Aug. 7 in Superior Court.
Four other defendants - Jennifer Murphy, 27, Jesus Leyva, 34, Pedro Perez, 32, and Anthony Maestas, 33 - had pleaded guilty in earlier court proceedings.
Although tribal officials declined to comment on the matter Thursday, Chairman James Ramos said in a written statement: "The personal conduct of Stacy and Erik Barajas has no connection to the San Manuel Tribal Government or to the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, and therefore it would not be appropriate for us to comment on their cases."
Ramos has encountered problems of his own with the Barajas clan in the last year.
In November, he sought a restraining order against Nunez and her father, Kenneth Barajas, alleging they threatened him during a tribal council meeting and he feared for his life and the safety of his family.
A judge granted the restraining order against Kenneth Barajas in December, but his daughter was dropped from the restraining order case as a compromise to settle the matter, Ramos' attorney, Patrick Silva, said at the time.
The incident shook Ramos up so much he hired someone to stand guard outside his home.
A seven-month investigation by police and Drug Enforcement Administration agents into the Mexican Mafia's methamphetamine business in San Bernardino culminated in a raid in December 2006 of homes across the county and on the San Manuel reservation.
Dozens of people were arrested in the sweep.
Salvador Hernandez has been identified in DEA documents and by county prosecutors as the reputed Mexican Mafia's "shotcaller" for the San Bernardino area, meaning he collects taxes - a percentage of cash profits from the sale of methamphetamine - from Latino gangs in the city. He can also authorize killings.
According to DEA documents, Nunez is an associate of the Mexican Mafia.
She paid $5,000 in rent at one time for one gang member serving time at Oak Glen State Prison, and has bought cars for other gang members.
During the investigation, undercover DEA agents watching Salvador Hernandez spotted him driving a black Dodge Infinity work truck that was registered to Nunez, court records show.
Authorities also learned during the investigation of the growing concern that gang members were infiltrating the reservation.
One DEA document details an October 2006 meeting on the reservation between tribal security officers, San Bernardino police officers and DEA agents.
Kevin Villalobos, then a lieutenant with the tribe's security force, told agents and police that gang members had "infiltrated the reservation and were extorting some of the tribal members for money.
Villalobos told investigators that tribal members including Nunez and Erik Barajas brought problems to the reservation due to their interaction with gang members and allowing them onto the reservation and into their homes, according to DEA documents.
Reached by telephone this week, Villalobos declined comment.
Practice area(s): Criminal Defense
Court: People v. A.H.