SAN FRANCISCO — Federal and local authorities announced the indictment Thursday of 19 members of a South San Francisco street gang on racketeering and other federal charges, alleging they engaged in a host of crimes, including murder, robbery and narcotics trafficking as part of a broader conspiracy to preserve the organization's power and protect its territory from rival gangs.
Thirteen of the defendants, members and associates of the "500 Block/C Street" gang, were arrested Thursday during a multi-agency law enforcement operation. Three special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) were injured during the enforcement action. They were transported to a Bay area hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries.
The 13 individuals arrested Thursday, and two other defendants who were already in federal custody, are expected to make their initial appearance in federal court Friday morning. The remaining four defendants, who are currently in state custody, will be turned over to federal authorities next week to face charges.
During a news conference Thursday afternoon, federal and local officials provided an overview of the 17-month probe and the resulting 29-count superseding indictment. The prosecution is being overseen by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California.
"The charges that were unsealed today are the result of the tireless efforts of several law enforcement agencies who are working together to keep the community safe," said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. "For the victims and their families, there is nothing we can do to erase their pain and sorrow. I hope, however, that these charges begin to provide some closure for them. Our thoughts and prayers are with the three Homeland Security Investigation (special) agents who were injured during this morning's operation. My office is proud to be associated with professionals who put their lives on the line to protect others and are serious about keeping the community safe. We will continue to work with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to help bring to justice those who terrorize their communities with violence and fear."
The indictment, handed down April 24 and unsealed Friday, accuses the members and associates of the "500 Block/C Street" gang with conspiring to commit murder and assault in the aid of racketeering; using firearms in connection with violent crime and obstruction of justice. Four of the defendants who are specifically charged with using a firearm in the commission of a murder could face the death penalty. Additionally, 12 of the other defendants in the case could receive up to life in prison if convicted of all of the charges lodged against them.
"Today is a welcome day for residents of South San Francisco and a very bad day for an entrenched gang based here in the Bay Area," said Clark Settles, special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco. "This indictment and the related arrests serve as a warning to local gangs about the consequences of using violence and fear to maintain control of their turf."
The indictment is the culmination of investigations originally initiated by the Daly City Police Department and the South San Francisco Police Department following separate shootings in those communities. The Daly City shooting occurred Dec. 18, 2010, and left three people injured. Four days later, a shooting in South San Francisco killed three individuals and wounded three others. As the probe widened, the local police departments sought the assistance and expertise of ICE HSI. The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office also aided with the investigation. The U.S. Marshals Service provided significant assistance during Thursday's enforcement action.
"The South San Francisco City Council extends its sincere congratulations to our Police Department, members of the U.S. Attorney's Office, Homeland Security Investigations, the Daly City Police Department and to the members of the San Mateo County Gang Intelligence Unit for their diligent investigative efforts over the past 16 months," said South San Francisco Mayor Richard Garbarino. "Knowing arrests have been made will hopefully start to bring a sense of closure for the families and the entire community. The City of South San Francisco will continue its commitment to strengthen our community and encourages everyone to stand together against community violence."
The indictment alleges the "500 Block/C Street" gang constituted a racketeering enterprise and that the defendants conspired to engage in narcotics trafficking, extortion, robbery and murder to further the aims of the organization. The indictment further states that while the "500 Block/C Street" was a Norteño gang, the organization warred not only with Sureño gangs, but also with rival Norteño cliques. Below are the 16 defendants charged as part of the racketeering conspiracy and the maximum penalties they face:
- Joseph "Little Vicious" Ortiz, 22, of South San Francisco, possible death penalty;
- Victor "Little Creeper" Flores, 20, of Petaluma; possible death penalty;
- Justin "Teddy" Whipple, 19, of San Bruno, possible death penalty;
- Benjamin "BG" Campos-Gonzalez, 21, of San Mateo, possible death penalty;
- Michael "Vicious" Ortiz, Jr., 25, of San Bruno, life in prison;
- Michael "Blackie" Ortiz, Sr., 48, of San Bruno, life in prison;
- Armando "Savage" Acosta, 27, of Pacifica, life in prison;
- Giovanni "Gio" Rimando Ascencio, 22, of South San Francisco, life in prison;
- Raymond "Tear Drop" Hembry, 33, of South San Francisco, life in prison;
- James "Pimpy" Hembry, 31, of Daly City, life in prison;
- Richard "Maniac" Martinez, 25, of Hayward, life in prison;
- Rodrigo "Ayo" Aguayo, 23, of San Mateo, life in prison;
- Gregorio "Rhino" Guzman, 38, of San Mateo, life in prison;
- Mario "Fat Boy" Bergren, 23, of South San Francisco, life in prison;
- Andrew "Andy" Bryant, 29, of Daly City, life in prison; and
- Peter "P-Nasty" Davis, 26, of San Francisco, life in prison.
The indictment also charges four of the above defendants – Joseph Ortiz, Victor Flores, Justin Whipple and Benjamin Campos-Gonzalez – with three counts of murder in aid of racketeering, four counts of attempted murder in aid of racketeering and related firearms offenses stemming from their alleged role in the fatal South San Francisco shooting. Additionally, Joseph Ortiz is charged with four other attempted murders in aid of racketeering and a related firearms offense arising from the Daly City shooting.
The indictment details the defendants' involvement in the gang and the organization's current leadership structure. It alleges that Joseph Ortiz, one of the ranking members of the 500 Block clique, initially joined the gang when he was approximately 11 years old. According to the indictment, in 2011 Raymond Hembry took over as the leader of the C Street clique of the merged gang and Giovanni Ascencio assumed control over the 500 Block side of the organization.
The three defendants in the case who are not facing racketeering charges are accused of being accessories after the fact to the South San Francisco murders and attempted murders. They are:
- Louis Rodriguez, 30, of Milbrae, 60 years in prison;
- Tanya "La China" Rodriguez, 45, of San Bruno, 40 years in prison; and
- Betty Ortiz, 49, of San Bruno, 40 years in prison.
Specifically, these defendants are charged with various obstruction-related offenses for their alleged efforts to hinder the investigation into the "Eighth Lane" shootings. According to the court document, their actions included washing and concealing weapons used in the murders; questioning a perspective witnesses and transporting that person from northern California to Mexico; and wiring money to Mexico.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Acadia L. Senese and W.S. Wilson Leung, with support from Paralegal Kevin Costello and Legal Technician Daniel Charlier-Smith.