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Transnational Gangs

Gang member pleads guilty to South San Francisco racketeering triple murder

Slayings involved suspected rival gang members

SAN FRANCISCO – A Bay Area gang member has pleaded guilty to 25 federal charges, including three counts of racketeering murder, stemming from a long-term probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) and several local law enforcement agencies.

Joseph Ortiz, 23, of South San Francisco, appeared in court Thursday. In addition to the three racketeering murder counts, Ortiz pleaded guilty to 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.

"We’re gratified by today’s plea because it represents another important stride in our ongoing effort to combat gang-related crime in the Bay Area," said Clark Settles, special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco. "In concert with our federal and local partners, we’re seeking to dismantle these dangerous transnational organizations and stop the scourge of violence being perpetrated by individuals like this defendant who’ve shown no regard for the law or human life."

According to court documents, 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. The united 500 Block/C Street Gang engages in crimes such as robbery, narcotics trafficking and murder. Among other acts of violence, members of the 500 Block/C Street Gang sought to attack and kill members of rival Sureño gangs, as well as members of other rival gangs.

On the night of Dec. 18, 2010, Ortiz saw four individuals in a vehicle in Daly City he suspected of being Sureño gang members. Ortiz went to his own car, retrieved a gun, and fired at the car carrying the suspected Sureños as it drove away, wounding three of the occupants.

Four days later, 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 of being rival gang members. Ortiz and some of his co-conspirators got out of their car with guns and fired into the group, killing three individuals and wounding three; one victim was uninjured.

In addition to these shootings, Ortiz pleaded guilty to robbing a South San Francisco jewelry store at gunpoint in April 2010 and to robbing a convenience store in Pacifica four days later. Ortiz also pleaded guilty to various charges arising from his efforts to obstruct the investigation of the December 2010 shooting in South San Francisco, including fleeing to Mexico to avoid arrest and prosecution.

The three racketeering murder counts alone carry a mandatory minimum term of life in prison. Ortiz’s sentencing is set for Nov. 1.

HSI worked closely on the case with the Daly City and South San Francisco police departments. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office also assisted with the investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Acadia L. Senese and W.S. Wilson Leung, aided by Kevin Costello, Ponly Tu, Marina Ponomarchuk and Daniel Charlier-Smith.

Of the 19 defendants originally charged in the investigation, 12 have pleaded guilty to racketeering-related offenses and/or offenses related to the obstruction of justice.