SAN FRANCISCO – A Bay Area gang member who previously pleaded guilty to 25 federal charges, including three counts of racketeering murder, was sentenced Thursday to five life terms, plus 60 years in federal prison.
Joseph Ortiz, 23, of South San Francisco, pleaded guilty in July to three counts of racketeering murder, eight counts of attempted racketeering murder, two counts of robbery affecting interstate commerce, racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit racketeering murder, multiple firearms violations, and multiple violations related to the obstruction of justice.
The charges are the result of a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Daly City and South San Francisco police departments. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Gang Intelligence and Investigations Unit also provided substantial support with the investigation.
According to court records, Ortiz is a member of the 500 Block gang, a Norteño street gang in South San Francisco. Members of the 500 Block gang are allied with members of another Norteño gang in South San Francisco, the C Street gang. Together, the two gangs engaged in crimes such as robbery, narcotics trafficking and murder.
The racketeering-related murders and attempted murders Ortiz committed took place over a four-day period in December 2010. On the evening of Dec. 18, 2010, Ortiz saw four individuals he suspected of being rival Sureño gang members in a car in Saint Francis Square in Daly City. Ortiz went to his vehicle, retrieved a gun, and fired at the car carrying the suspected Sureño gang members as it drove away. Three of the occupants were wounded in the attack.
Four days later, on Dec. 22, 2010, Ortiz and several other members of the 500 Block/C Street Gang were looking for rival gang members to attack. As they drove along Eighth Lane in South San Francisco, Ortiz saw a group of young men he suspected were rival gang members. Ortiz and his co-conspirators got out of their car with guns drawn and fired into the group, killing three and wounding three; one victim was uninjured.
"We offer our condolences to the victims’ families. Nothing we can do can erase their pain and sorrow," stated U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. "We hope, however, that today’s sentencing brings some measure of closure for them. And today’s sentence sends the clear message that we will work tirelessly with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who would terrorize their communities with senseless and brutal acts of violence."
In addition to the murder charges, Ortiz pleaded guilty to racketeering-related conspiracies based on his participation in the April 2010 armed robberies of a South San Francisco jewelry store and a Pacifica 7-Eleven convenience store. Ortiz also pleaded guilty to various charges arising from his efforts to obstruct the probe into the December 2010 murders, including fleeing to Mexico to avoid arrest and prosecution.
"This defendant was a shot caller for a violent criminal enterprise that exacted a heavy toll on several Bay Area communities," said Clark Settles, special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco. "It’s doubtful today’s sentence will ease the heartache of those who were victimized, but perhaps they can find solace in knowing this defendant’s spree of terror and intimidation has come to an end. HSI is gratified to have played a part in a multi-agency enforcement effort that succeeded in bringing one of the Bay Area’s most dangerous gangs to its knees."
"The City of South San Francisco is pleased to see that justice has been served in this case and we hope that the families who have been affected by this event can find closure knowing that one of the persons responsible for the murder of their loved ones will be spending the rest of his life in custody," said South San Francisco Police Chief Michael Massoni. "I would also like to thank the members of Homeland Security Investigations and the Daly City Police Department for their assistance to the South San Francisco Police Department in bringing this case to justice."
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston imposed three consecutive life sentences on Ortiz, one for each of the December 2010 murder victims, to be followed by a consecutive life sentence for using a firearm to commit the murders. The court also imposed an additional consecutive life sentence for the other crimes Ortiz committed, as well as 60 consecutive years’ imprisonment for using a firearm in relation to those crimes.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Acadia L. Senese and W.S. Wilson Leung prosecuted the case, with the assistance of Kevin Costello, Ponly Tu, Marina Ponomarchuk, and Daniel Charlier-Smith.
Of the 19 defendants originally charged in the investigation, 14 have pleaded guilty to racketeering-related offenses and/or offenses related to the obstruction of justice. The trial for the remaining defendants is set for March 31, 2014.