By Mark Gutglueck
The pending departure of San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos after sixteen years as the county’s top prosecutor has already triggered an initial round of gangland executions aimed at preventing what were formerly safe secrets relating to a protection racket run out of the prosecutor’s office from lurching into public view, information available to the Sentinel indicates.
While Ramos’s defeat in his fourth reelection effort has apparently emboldened the police department in the county seat to initiate action which prior to Ramos’s political demise would have been considered absolutely unthinkable, the Mexican Mafia, which lies at the center of the criminal enterprise against which the San Bernardino Police Department’s effort is aimed, is not without formidable resources of its own.
Accordingly, more than a dozen entities – including known and established criminals who are both in custody and at large together with law enforcement figures who have either been compromised through payoffs and bribes from the mob or who conversely have resisted such overtures and are doggedly seeking to bring those involved at the highest level of this criminal enterprise to justice – find themselves in mortal danger.
Among those over whom the sword of Damocles now hangs are Ramos himself, one of his most hard charging prosecutors and San Bernardino’s police chief, together with other members of that department’s command echelon.
Reportedly, since June 10, five days after Mike Ramos was displaced in a head-to-head contest with one of his former deputy prosecutors, Jason Anderson, in the 2018 race for district attorney, four members of the Mexican Mafia currently or formerly active in the Southern California region have perished in mob hits, ordered from on high in the organization. Among those said to have been “hit,” i.e., killed were two street level members, a higher ranking member at the level of a “lieutenant” or “soldier” and one at a higher level still. The Sentinel has been unable to identify who those alleged victims were or verify if those deaths occurred, with the single exception of that of Eric Moreno, who was killed on July 15.
Prior to Ramos’s defeat, there had been occasional flights of panic within the gang, headed by Salvador Orozco “Toro” Hernandez, Jr., which led to Hernandez consigning members to death at the hands of hit squads he controls.
For nearly a decade, Hernandez has run the Mexican Mafia criminal empire from a prison cell. Initially, Hernandez was calling those shots from within the California Penal System, where he had been serving a ten-year sentence for attempted murder. More recently, he has been running the Mexican Mafia from inside the walls of the high security federal prison in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.known as the U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan Township
The Mexican Mafia was originally set up by Luis “Huero Buff” Flores in the late 1950s as a prison gang intended to protect its members within the state’s penitentiaries as well as to control through violence, fear and intimidation the black market activities within, and the black market support network outside, prison walls. By the 1980s, the Mexican Mafia had morphed into one of the more dominant criminal organizations outside a prison setting in California and several other states and the de facto controlling organization over virtually all Hispanic gangs in Southern California, in and outside prisons and jails. The organization has a ritualized membership and induction code which deprecates and discourages acting as an informant or in any way cooperating with legal authorities, eschews betraying, victimizing, disrespecting or stealing from fellow gang members, vilifies engaging in homosexuality, and forbids intruding on another member’s business territory. Members of the Mexican Mafia are committed to remain members for life and are required to carry out, under penalty of death, orders handed down from the leadership of the organization, including ones to execute the organization’s enemies or other members who have left or betrayed the gang. Within the prison setting and sometimes outside of it, the Mexican Mafia is in a loose alliance with the Aryan Brotherhood, a white prison gang, as well as in a fierce and sometimes deadly rivalry with African-American gangs such as the Bloods, Crips and Black Guerrilla Family. Over the last several decades the Mexican Mafia has become a dominant element in the distribution of street drugs imported from or through Mexico, in particular heroin and cocaine and more recently methamphetamine as a consequence of the concerted U.S. policy which has effectively curtailed the availability of chemicals and lab equipment needed to produce the drug domestically. It has also formed loose affiliations with other gangs such as Sureño 13 and Familia Michoacana, as well as the Sinaloa Cartel. Thus, the Mexican Mafia is considered a major factor in the illicit drug trade in California and a significant factor in several other states.
As a young man in the 1980s and early 1990s, Hernandez maneuvered in and out of prison. In the mid-2000s, through a combination of luck, opportunism, the ruthless application of violence and with the loyalty and assistance of his brother, Alfred Hernandez, he muscled in on the syndicate, establishing himself at the pinnacle of power and authority, the very top of the chain of command.
While he was still free, Hernandez ruled the Mexican Mafia roost from Bloomington, the unincorporated San Bernardino County area near Fontana and Rialto. Hernandez used two arms of the Mexican Mafia that were locally based to enforce his hold over the Mexican Mafia’s burgeoning franchise. One of those was the Eastside Riva (ESR), a street gang that had been in existence since the mid-to-late 1980s, dominating territory on the east side of the City of Riverside, and which had grown to roughly 500 members by the time Hernandez had taken control of it. The second of those was another smaller and more insular street gang, the West Side Verdugos in San Bernardino, which had fewer members than Eastide Riva in Riverside, but which was even more prone to violence. Underneath the umbrella of the West Side Verdugo street gang were two smaller divisions: the 7th Street Locos and the Little Counts. Between 2000 and 2007, upon Hernandez’s orders members of the Westside Verdugos purged their ranks, i.e., killing no fewer than seven of their fellow gang members who had not demonstrated the requisite loyalty to Hernandez, either by withholding taxes (i.e., not kicking up a percentage of the proceeds from their drug dealing operations to Hernandez), cracking under police interrogation, or engaging in behavior that led Hernandez to suspect that they might be either cooperating with state or federal authorities or were working with rival gangs. By the same token, there is evidence to suggest that Hernandez, in a carefully calculated and precisely timed move, had himself provided to authorities information on some other high-ranking Mexican Mafia members that allowed him to take over and solidify his hold on the entire organization’s reins. By 2004, Toro Hernandez was the undisputed kingpin of the Mexican Mafia.
For an operation with as many tentacles as that of the Mexican Mafia exercising such omnidirectional reach, functioning in a legally safe environment was paramount to Hernandez. Paying off every policeman on the beat or the watch commanders overseeing them was out of the question. Nor was bribing all of the police chiefs in the San Bernardino region practical or possible. Two pathways for insulating himself did exist for Hernandez, however.
As luck would have it, a half dozen or so of the members of Hernandez’s criminal network turned out to be members of the San Manuel Indian Tribe, which had established an Indian Bingo Parlor on its reservation grounds in Highland in 1986 and then transitioned that enterprise over the next decade into an extremely lucrative casino. Some of those gang members just happened to hail from one of the most influential families in the tribe. Two of those were a brother and sister, Erik and Stacy Barajas. The tribal members were the beneficiaries of a substantial amount of income from the tribe’s gaming operation. And the reservation, under federal law, was considered sovereign territory, off limits to local and state authorities, including local and state law enforcement. Through his relationship with the tribe members, Hernandez was provided with access to the tribal land, where he could warehouse substantial quantities of contraband – mostly illicit drugs – with relative confidence that it would remain secure and beyond the reach of local police or regional narcotics task forces. And the tribal members, with their regular income from the casino, could deposit into their bank accounts large amounts of cash without raising suspicion, and then dole that money out as they – and Hernandez – saw fit, thereby laundering it.
The second pathway that lay open for Hernandez was the opportunity presented to him in the personage of San Bernardino County’s district attorney, Mike Ramos, and the possibility that the jurisdiction’s prosecutorial apparatus could be compromised. It would not much matter how diligent the region’s police officers proved in dogging his criminal enterprises, how many times he was detained and arrested, booked and fingerprinted, held in custody long enough for his bail to be posted, if ultimately the district attorney’s office concluded that there was insufficient evidence upon which to proceed with a prosecution, or that the arrest in some way or another had been marred by procedural error that made taking the matter to trial ill-advised. Money delivered to the DA in sufficient quantity could mean that Hernandez’s legal problems might simply go away.
At this point, much remains shrouded in mystery, including exactly to what extent Hernandez was able to merge the Mexican Mafia’s financial affairs with those of tribal members, including the Barajas siblings, and how much money the Mexican Mafia was able to pass through those accounts and then recover as completely laundered cash. What is known is that Hernandez was able to set up a system whereby the narcotics that were the commodity of his trade were given safe harbor on the reservation grounds under an arrangement that postdated his eventual incarceration and that a Mexican Mafia courier – a bagman in the parlance of the trade – succeeded in delivering a sack full of cash to District Attorney Mike Ramos.
For a relatively short time, Hernandez thrived in his vaunted position at the head of the Mexican Mafia. Ironically, it would be his association with the Barajas siblings that would play a pivotal role in bringing his days of freedom to an end.
In late 2004, just as Hernandez was outmaneuvering, eradicating or creatively sending up the river the last of his rivals for control of the Mexican Mafia, a joint San Bernardino Police/DEA investigation was focusing on drug distribution activity by members of the Mexican Mafia. In time, those investigators would identify Toro Hernandez, his brother Alfred Hernandez, Eric Barajas, his sister Stacy Cheyenne Barajas-Nunez, Erlino Honesto, Geahetta Amaya and Arturo Ortiz as being central characters involved in drug dealing and attendant crimes. Investigators had grounds to believe that the drug distribution activity was being coordinated out of the Brass Key, a Highland Bar not too distant from the San Manuel Reservation and Casino. The Brass Key was owned by Greg Duro, the son of one-time San Manuel Tribal Chairman Henry Duro. Greg Duro had hired Leonard Epps to serve as a bartender and manager of the Brass Key. A frequent patron at the bar was James Seay, Epps’ friend and the brother of former San Diego Chargers football player Mark Seay. James Seay, it seemed, came to recognize or in some way learned about the drug distribution activity taking place out of the Brass Key. James Seay was shot and wounded in front of The Brass Key on May 17, 2004. San Manuel tribal member Robert Vincent Martinez III, who was suspected of belonging to the Mexican Mafia, was charged in the case, but the charges were later dismissed. Seay in May 2005 sued Martinez over his injuries and lost wages. Though Martinez initially moved to contest the suit through his attorney, Trent Copeland, the case settled for in excess of $500,000. Just days later, Seay was fatally shot in front of his mother’s house in San Bernardino, an act bearing all the hallmarks of a Mexican Mafia hit. The killing remains unsolved.
At that point, members of the Mexican Mafia involved in the drug trafficking operation based out of the Brass Key, including Erik and his sister Stacy Barajas-Nunez, grew concerned that Epps represented a threat to their activity because he had been close to Seay and knew, on the basis of his role at the Brass Key, details relating to the drug distribution network. A botched attempt on Epps’ life was made, and after its failure, a contract that had been taken out on Epps remained in play. Federal drug agents learned of the murder plot against Epps in 2006 during their joint investigation with the San Bernardino Police Department into the Mexican Mafia’s drug distribution activity. The agents uncovered airtight evidence that Erik and Stacy Barajas were conspiring with Salvador Hernandez and his brother, Alfred Hernandez, to have Epps killed.
As a consequence of the utter depth of the criminal enterprises in which they were involved and the sheer magnitude of proof federal agents and the San Bernardino Police Department had accumulated against them, not to mention the widespread attention their activity generated among federal, state and local authorities and prosecutors, Salvador and Alfred Hernandez, for their involvement in the planned assassination of Epps along with dozens of other overt criminal acts, were imprisoned. More than a decade later, Hernandez remains as the head of the Mexican Mafia, though he is in custody. He is, at this point, no longer a guest of the State of California, but rather the federal government, based on drug distribution activity Hernandez was implicated in that more heavily involved the Eastside Riva gang in Riverside than the gangs he was affiliated with in San Bernardino.
The case against Barajas and Barajas-Nunez was handed off to the local prosecutor, San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos. Because the basis of the case against Stacy Barajas-Nunez and her brother had been laid by local investigators teamed with federal agents, Ramos did not have the option of dispensing with the matter without a prosecution, as the case involved layers of drug distribution activity and indisputable evidence of the murder-for-hire scheme. Proof that Barajas and Barajas-Nunez had arranged for the Hernandez brothers to set up the killing of Epps was obtained when federal officials served search warrants on several San Manuel Reservation homes, including those of Barajas and Barajas-Nunez. Ultimately, with federal officials closely monitoring the progression of the case in state court, Ramos accepted a plea agreement from both. Barajas-Nunez pleaded guilty to participating in the murder-for-hire scheme and to two drug charges. Her brother pleaded guilty to an assault with a deadly weapon charge in connection with the murder-for-hire scheme. The deal Ramos approved allowed them to avoid any jail time and remain on the reservation and be monitored electronically. Barajas-Nunez agreed to a 365-day home detention sentence and her brother agreed to 180 days of home sentencing.
The outcome of the case against Erik Barajas and his sister served as the first open indication that Mike Ramos might be militating on behalf of the Mexican Mafia, with multiple public and media notations of the lenient treatment the pair had received.
As a result of the attempt on his life and the injuries he sustained, Epps, represented by attorney Frank Peterson, filed a civil suit against Barajas-Nunez and Barajas. Epps and Peterson prevailed in that suit and a jury awarded Epps $6.577 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Epps is still a target for Mexican Mafia executioners and has had to assume a new identity and relocate himself and his family to a secure location.
In the course of litigating the matter, Peterson, a former sheriff’s detective turned attorney, developed a wealth of information relating to the Mexican Mafia’s penetration of San Bernardino County. Contained within that evidence file which Peterson intended to present at trial was the account of a witness who served as a courier between the Mexican Mafia and members of the San Manuel Indian Tribe in conjunction with payments and activity relating to the drug distribution network. That witness, known by the code name “Rico Doe,” said that Mike Ramos was handed, during a designated rendezvous at the Pechanga Casino in Temecula, a package containing a substantial amount of cash that originated from the Mexican Mafia’s involvement in narcotics distribution activity. According to Rico Doe, the money was provided to Ramos as part of an arrangement to insulate members of the Mexican Mafia and San Manuel tribal members from prosecution. The witness hinted at other occasions when money was provided to the district attorney.
Ultimately, that information was not presented in court, as the judge hearing the case, Michael A. Smith, deemed it irrelevant to Epps’ claims against the Barajas siblings. During the course of the trial, much of the evidence and information presented in court was not publicly available because of a gag order that had been imposed on Epps and Peterson at the request of the defense during the proceedings. Since the trial has concluded, information accrued by Peterson in preparation to put on Epps’ case exploring the degree to which the Mexican Mafia has wrapped its tentacles around public officials in San Bernardino County has surfaced.
In attempting to deflect early questions about why the Mexican Mafia had thrived within his jurisdiction under his watch and had been permitted to retreat to a safe haven on the San Manuel Indian Reservation from which it was operating with seeming impunity and immunity, Mike Ramos and his spokespeople simply asserted that the district attorney’s office did not have investigative or prosecutorial authority on the reservation, which, under federal law, is deemed sovereign Indian land beyond the reach of state or local authorities. That claim rang hollow, however, since the tribe waived that status in June 2010 by entering into an arrangement with the county approved by the board of supervisors under which the tribe agreed to pay the district attorney’s office $1,048,909 over the three years ending June 30, 2013, running to $349,636.33 per year, to prosecute criminal cases originating on the reservation and at the San Manuel Casino located on reservation grounds and operated by the tribe. That was intended to cover the provision of a single full time prosecutor and a single full time senior investigator, plus a vehicle to be available for their use and fuel enough for them to drive 2,000 miles per month. In 2013, the tribe and the county extended that contract for three years, with the tribe agreeing to pay the county $1,111,403 for the three years of prosecutorial service ending on June 30, 2016, running to $370,467.66 per year. In 2016, the tribe and the county again extended the arrangement, with the tribe providing the district attorney’s office $1,208,003 for continued prosecutorial and investigative services from July 1, 2016 through to June 30, 2019, which ran to an average of $402,667.66 per year. In April of this year, by mutual consent that contract was closed out and a new one put in place for 2018-19 in which the tribe agreed to up the annual amount to $420,278.
Over the last several years, it has become apparent that the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and several Southern California regional task forces devoted to narcotics enforcement and their constituent law enforcement agencies have come to recognize that advance information about the targets, times and places of enforcement operations cannot be safely vouchsafed to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
For example, on January 12, 2017, the Fontana Police Department, the California Attorney General’s Bureau of Investigation, and the California Highway Patrol, in an effort involving more than 300 law enforcement officers, executed “Operation Bad Blood,” which had been in the planning stages for weeks and targeted two gangs in Fontana, the South Fontana Gang and the Mexican Mafia. In the days in advance of the massive set of raids, 32 suspected gang members had been quietly taken into custody. On January 12, another 35 people were arrested and several caches of firearms, ammunition, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and prescription medications were seized.
The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office was not involved in the preparation of the search and arrest warrants prepared for Operation Bad Blood. Nor was Mike Ramos or his office informed ahead of time that the action was to take place.
On November 9, 2017 a multi-agency task force led by the California Attorney General’s Office and its special operations unit carried out a series of raids targeting the Mexican Mafia and its related drug cartel, arresting 47 people, 44 of whom were in Southern California and two of whom were in San Bernardino County, as well as three others in Colorado and Missouri. In the course of those raids, 12 pounds of methamphetamine, three pounds of heroin, 120 pounds of marijuana and 60 pounds of cocaine were seized, along with a substantial number of firearms.
The arrest warrants around which these operations revolved were prepared by the California Attorney General’s Office, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office was not given a heads up with regard to the raids before they were under way, as is routinely the case in such operations.
It is worth noting as well that the San Manuel Tribe has for the last eight years had contractual arrangements with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement service. The contract renewed in 2016 called for paying the county $3,081,143 per year for the sheriff’s department’s services, which were to include 11 deputies assigned full time to the reservation per week and one part time deputy assigned there for 16 hours per week, meaning primarily in and around the casino, with the part time supervision of a lieutenant about 15 hours per week, and the full time supervision of one sergeant per week and the supervision of a second part time sergeant at roughly 26 hours per week. The contract also called for paying for five marked units to be stationed at the reservation; a mechanic to service those vehicles up to ten hours per week; two full time office clerical staff personnel per week plus one part time clerical worker at 12 hours per week. By mutual consent the county and the tribe terminated that contract and entered into a new one effective for 2018-19 as of the July 1 for $3,463,748.
By unspoken arrangement, those deputies concern themselves almost exclusively with policing the casino operation. Over the last eight years, the sheriff’s department has never attempted to interrupt or interfere with the warehousing of narcotics known to take place at specified residences on the reservation. In addition, upon retirement from the department, deputies who have worked the San Manuel detail have been offered employment with the tribe at salaries rivaling their pay while employed with the sheriff’s department. This allows them to draw their pensions and receive compensation from the tribe, nearly doubling, in most cases, their annual remuneration when they were active peace officers.
The sheriff’s department is the contract law enforcement service provider for the City of Highland, which abuts the reservation property on the east.
Adjacent to the reservation to the west is the City of San Bernardino. It is in San Bernardino, which over the last three decades has seen an increasingly larger percentage of its population slip below the poverty line and where street gang activity is rampant, where many of the social ills that are an outgrowth of the Mexican Mafia’s criminal enterprises are most manifest. Accordingly, of all of the law enforcement agencies in San Bernardino County, it is the San Bernardino Police Department which has made the furthest inroads against the Mexican Mafia and its leadership. Indeed, it was the San Bernardino Police Department that followed up on the murder attempt on Epps, accumulated evidence and cobbled enough of the disparate underlying facts together which led to a strong enough case being made against Hernandez and his brother that they were convicted on the attempted murder charges. Unlike other law enforcement agencies and in pointed contrast to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, detectives with the San Bernardino Police Department, on occasion proved intrepid enough to obtain and serve, in conjunction with federal officials, search warrants at the reservation itself, the sanctuary from which elements of the Mexican Mafia have otherwise been able to operate with impunity. If the San Bernardino Police Department fell short of going into the Mexican Mafia’s nest and rooting out all of the soldiers Hernandez had at his command, that failure had come about not from the department shrinking from the task but rather as a function of the district attorney’s office’s unwillingness to capitalize on the investigative product the police department had churned up.
Late last year came an indication of the strategy by which Hernandez, behind bars but yet commanding a formidable criminal empire, hoped to limit the San Bernardino Police Department’s fervor for intruding into places on the reservation that remain critical to the Mexican Mafia’s ability to function. In October 2017 the San Manuel Tribe arranged to provide the San Bernardino Police Department with a $4.2 million grant, and then announced the gesture on November 1. Between that date and December 31, the tribe doled out $600,000 to the department to fund two daily overtime shifts in the northeastern quadrant of the city closest to the San Manuel reservation. The tribe’s largesse was also intended to cover the purchase of patrol vehicles, video surveillance equipment and ten license plate readers, along with the deployment of community service officers and parking control officers. Furthermore the department is receiving from the tribe another $1.2 million this year and is to receive $1.2 million twice more, in calendar 2019 and 2020 for the same purposes.
To Hernandez, money put in the right hands or vectored to the right causes could work wonders in keeping his criminal network from becoming entangled in pesky prosecutions.
A major game changer for him, however, came with the unanticipated political demise of Mike Ramos this year. The exodus next January of Ramos and his team, who have made a steady practice of looking the other way when it came to the activities involving Hernandez and his minions, and the ascendancy of Jason Anderson, who has no fealty to Ramos and the regime he built up over four terms in office, promises to be problematic for Hernandez and the multitude of crews serving him who are still at liberty throughout San Bernardino County. First off, potential cases involving local Mexican Mafia members that have been languishing while awaiting evaluation for prosecutorial potential or ones that have automatically been rejected under Ramos that will not have fallen beyond the statute of limitations when Anderson moves into office could be filed. Secondly, the advance information about law enforcement operations targeting the Mexican Mafia which has been reaching Hernandez’s capos while Ramos has been in office could very well dry up once he is no longer district attorney and has lost access to inside information. Thirdly, in a function related to the first consideration above, that the district attorney’s office might undertake to prosecute the cases being brought to it might embolden local agencies, in particular the San Bernardino Police Department, which functions in the very heartland of the Mexican Mafia, to step up its operations against that organization. And fourth, there is no guarantee that once the prosecutorial scepter is no longer in his hands, Ramos, a former president of the California District Attorneys Association, and the immediate past president of the National District Attorneys Association, will not himself be the target of an investigation that will unlock the layers of deep secrets he has been keeping. In an effort to save himself from a sentence that could keep him in prison until he is well into his eighties, the now 60-year-old Ramos could very well turn state’s evidence against Hernandez and other members of his organization.
Hernandez has demonstrated a history of extinguishing those he senses have betrayed him, are about to betray him or are in any way disloyal to him or his organization.
An illustration of Hernandez’s vindictiveness in this regard is the case of Andrew Rodriguez, a Mexican Mafia gang member, and his wife, Carmen Gutierrez Rodriguez. Precisely what Andrew Rodriguez knew about the Mexican Mafia’s operation that would have been a dire threat to Hernandez and how much of that he shared with his wife can be speculated about but at this point cannot be precisely known. This much can be determined: Hernandez had some grounds to believe that the couple knew something and that there was at least a possibility they would let it slip. On Wednesday January 18, 2017 around 9:25 p.m., as Carmen Rodriguez was coming out of Gaby’s Cafe, located at 1641 North Mount Vernon Avenue on the west side of San Bernardino, she was gunned down. At that moment, her husband was some 650 miles north at California’s only supermaximum state prison at Pelican Bay. Three months later, one of Hernandez’s Mexican Mafia operatives inside Pelican Bay Prison was able to get to Andrew Rodriguez. It was a clean hit. Exactly who killed him is not known.
More than a year passed after the killings of Carmen and Andrew Rodriguez. The San Bernardino Police Department continued its investigation into the murder that had happened in its jurisdiction, that of Carmen Rodriguez in January 2017.
Earlier this month, with Mike Ramos a lame duck as district attorney, charges were filed against five individuals San Bernardino Police Department Investigators believe were involved, directly and indirectly, in the murder of Carmen Rodriguez, including those who carried out its planning, the provision of instructions for it, and its execution: 44-year-old Isaac Paul Aguirre, 43-year-old Robert Fernandez, Jr., 45-year-old Richard Troy Garcia, 35-year-old Matthew Ruben Manzano and 30-year-old Eric Moreno, Jr. Aguirre, Fernandez, Garcia and Moreno were all known members of the Westside Verdugos. Manzano is a Mexican Mafia associate from Redlands. According to investigators, Garcia, Manzano and Moreno were within the prison system when Carmen Rodriguez’s execution was being planned, and they were instrumental in the instructions being conveyed to Aguirre and Fernandez, who carried it out. At the time of the charges being filed, Garcia, Manzano and Moreno were yet in prison. Aguirre had been taken into custody by the San Bernardino Police Department on June 28, 2017 at 7 p.m. near the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Texas Street. He was booked into West Valley Detention Center on charges of possession of narcotics for sale, participating in a street gang and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He remains locked up under a $5,850,000 bail restriction. Fernandez has been in custody at West Valley Detention Center since July 27, 2017, having been sent their pursuant to a transfer waiver following his arrest in Riverside County. He was charged with conspiracy, possession of a controlled substance for sale and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He remains in custody under a $2 million bail restriction.
The murder charges were filed against Aguirre, Fernandez, Garcia, Manzano and Moreno on Wednesday July 11, under case numbers FSB18002619, FSB18002620, FSB1800 2622, FSB18002623 and FSB18002621, respectively.
Within four days, Hernandez had moved to reduce his liabilities and silence those implicated in the Carmen Rodriguez murder whom he feared to be the weakest links – Eric Moreno, who had been incarcerated at the Level IV maximum security Kern Valley State Prison near Delano since 2015 as part of a ten year sentence, and Aguirre, yet housed within the population at West Valley Detention Center. A demonstration of the alacrity with which the Mexican Mafia can react to directives from on high ensued. Hernandez, in Pennsylvania, put out an order for Moreno’s and Aguirre’s deaths shortly after he learned of the charges being filed against Aguirre, Fernandez, Garcia, Manzano and Moreno. On Sunday, July 15, Moreno’s cellmate, 36-year-old Daniel Olguin, a Mexican Mafia affiliate, answered that call, killing Moreno within his cell. As of press time this week, no one had yet gotten to Aguirre.
Word on the mean streets of San Bernardino is that Hernandez, who had already resolved to carry out a purge of the Mexican Mafia’s ranks in the aftermath of Ramos’s loss of his reelection bid, has now sent that effort into overdrive. In addition to Moreno and the three members of the Mexican Mafia the Sentinel has been unable to identify who are said to have been killed since June 10, Hernandez allegedly is looking to silence Ramos in particular to preclude him from any future cooperation with law enforcement authorities relating to what he knows about the Mexican Mafia’s base of operation in San Bernardino County. Also identified as targets in Hernandez’s effort to clear his organization of opposition are Britt Imes, a prosecutor within Ramos’s office who has previously resisted or in some fashion overcome or eluded Ramos’s managerial restrictions that discouraged prosecuting members of the Mexican Mafia, and members of the command echelon at the San Bernardino Police Department, up to and including Police Chief Jarrod Burguan, in an effort to send an object message to investigators there that their pursuit of the Mexican Mafia carries with it an unacceptable price.
An inquiry with Chris Lee, who is the official spokesman for Ramos and his office, about what security enhancements the district attorney’s office has made and what precautions are being taken to protect Ramos and Imes, did not garner a response.
Lieutenant Mike Madden, the San Bernardino Police Department’s spokesman, told the Sentinel, “We are not aware of threats against any of our officers or command staff.”
The department is cognizant of Moreno’s killing, Madden said. “I do know there was a death of an inmate at Delano,” he said. He said that the department had not tracked the deaths of any other known Mexican Mafia members over the last six weeks.
By Mark Gutglueck