Rival gangs allegedly cooperated on extortion schemes, drug deals and violent crimes. Authorities say this may be a sign that Mexican drug cartels are strengthening their grip in California.
From a prison cell outside California, an inmate known as "Evil" was making himself known on Ventura County's streets.
Martin Madrigal, 39, was squeezing drug profits from street gangs for the prison-based Mexican Mafia, according to a grand jury indictment released Tuesday. He was so feared that rival gangs cooperated on extortion schemes, drug deals and violent crimes, according to law enforcement officials.
The 35-count indictment portrays Madrigal as a powerful figure representing an efficient and merciless organization that law enforcement officials believe has been operating for decades, largely from behind bars, calling shots among street gangs. He was one of 27 people named in the indictment, 24 of whom have been arrested. Officials declined to disclose where or why Madrigal is serving time.
The forced cooperation among rival gangs alleged in the indictment may be a sign that Mexican drug cartels are attempting to extend their authority over California drug trafficking, according to Ventura County Assistant Sheriff Gary Pentis.
Madrigal operated as a kind of regional manager, with a Ventura County gang member named Edwin "Sporty" Mora enforcing his decisions on the street with a written hit list from Madrigal and "permission to conduct extortion on behalf of the Mexican Mafia," according to the indictment. In one of the document's counts, Mora is said to have indicated that a gang member named Little Rudy "was going to kick in money by Wednesday and if he can't make that happen, Mora wanted the fool in the dirt."
Dozens of weapons, including an AK47, were confiscated during a series of arrests starting in May and ending earlier this month.
The Ventura County probe, dubbed Operation Wicked Hand, started with two shootings in Moorpark in April and a heroin bust about the same time.
"We soon came to realize the incidents weren't happenstance," Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.
Sheriff's officials said investigators thwarted several crimes, including two planned killings and a drugstore robbery.
Officials would not reveal details of how the investigation was conducted. The indictment, returned Nov. 14, makes it clear authorities had access to text messages and phone calls that gang members made among themselves.
More than 70 officers from the Sheriff's Department participated in the investigation, as well as officers from the Oxnard Police Department and other agencies.
"This case has dealt a crushing blow to organized crime in Ventura County," Pentis said. "We have incapacitated the organization from the top through its geographic managers."
Bail for those arrested, including two juveniles, ranges from $1 million to $5 million. Dist. Atty. Greg Totten said a number of suspects are facing multiple charges, and three are facing possible life sentences under the state's three-strikes law.
Totten said his office submitted the case to a criminal grand jury rather than opting for a preliminary hearing because of its complexity and the ongoing investigation's need for secrecy.
The indictment names more individuals than any other in Ventura County's history, he said.