SANTA ANA, Calif. – A gang member who worked as a federal informant was sentenced today to 21 years in state prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm in public. Fernando Jose Perez, also known as Inmate F, 34, Theo Lacy Jail, was found guilty by a jury on March 9, 2009, of one felony count of possession of a firearm by a felon with sentencing enhancements for crime-bail-crime, criminal street gang activity, and three prior strike convictions for possession of a firearm while on probation and street terrorism in 2000, being an active gang participant having a concealed firearm in a vehicle, gang member carrying a loaded firearm in public, possession of a firearm while on probation and street terrorism in 2001, and receiving and possessing stolen property and street terrorism in 2002, all in Orange County. He faced a maximum of 42 years to life in state prison.
On Aug. 3, 2015, the defense field a “Romero” motion, in which the judge can dismiss past strike allegations set forth in the complaint in order to sentence the defendant to less time in prison, in furtherance of justice.
Perez was sentenced today, March 4, 2016, by the Honorable Gregg L. Prickett, to 21 years in state prison, with more than 13 years of actual time served with credit, after the court took into consideration the United States Attorney's Office and the FBI's request for the court to take into consideration Perez's work as an informant for a federal law enforcement task force, the “Romero” motion, and the defendant's present felonies and past convictions, as well as the defendant's background, character and prospects. Judge Prickett dismissed two prior strike convictions which made Perez eligible for a determinate sentence instead of a life sentence.
In light of the court's ruling, the 06WF2819 case was dismissed today, as well as the crime-bail-crime enhancement in the 07WF0153 case, by the court at the request of the OCDA.
Circumstances of Case # 07WF0153
On Dec. 4, 2006, Perez was released from custody on $25,000 bond (Case # 06WF2819) and was charged with one felony count of possession of methamphetamine for sale, one felony count of the sale or transportation of a controlled substance, and one felony count of street terrorism.
At the time of the crime, Perez was a member of a criminal street gang.
On Jan. 15, 2007, Perez and Sousa were seated in Sousa's parked car in an alley in Stanton. Sousa was seated in the driver's seat of the vehicle and Perez was seated in the front passenger seat.
Shortly thereafter, Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) deputies observed that the vehicle had an invalid license plate and approached the vehicle. OCSD deputies asked the defendants to exit the vehicle and discovered a loaded .45 Kimber semi-automatic pistol in the passenger side door compartment. OCSD investigated this case and arrested the defendants at the scene.
Co-defendant Patrick Lee Sousa, 35, pleaded guilty on Sept. 12, 2007, to one felony count of being a felon carrying a loaded firearm in public, one felony count of a convicted felon having a concealed firearm in a vehicle, with sentencing enhancements for criminal street gang activity and a prior strike conviction for robbery in 1999 in Los Angeles County. Sousa was sentenced Sept. 12, 2007, to four years in state prison.
Perez informed mostly on federal cases as well as a few State cases, most notably People v. Scott Dekraai.
During the sentencing hearing on Feb. 26, 2016, the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) Joe McNally, who was the prosecutor responsible for the Black Flag investigation and worked with Perez, told the court in part:
When you make a decision to turn against the Mexican Mafia as Mr. Perez did, he knew what he was getting himself into. He knew that as soon as he began cooperating with the FBI in the capacity that he did, that there was no going back, that he was walking away from that past, and that he would not be available to go back to it. As a result of that, I believe that, I think long-term, I think special agent Garcia and other law enforcement officers present agree that his risk of recidivism going forward is substantially lower than other defendants who would be similarly situated, but for his cooperation. I think the reason for that is Mr. Perez knows that he can't go back to being involved in southern Hispanic street gangs. He has, at this point, agreed to testify against two made members of the Mexican mafia. He is indeed on their list, and I think as a result, Mr. Perez doesn't have the option to go back to that. I will also tell you my own dealings with him.
Mr. Perez, I think, has a real recognition of the harm that he has caused by making a decision to participate in gangs since a very young age. I do think that he is in good faith making efforts to try to — try to change himself by doing what he did, turning against people who had been long-time associates and providing information against members of the Mexican mafia. no doubt, he was — instead of — I think Mr. Perez should have done that a lot sooner, should have never gone to trial in this court and should have turned that page a lot sooner, undoubtedly motivated by the fact that he was staring down the barrel of a 25-year to life sentence. but what i can tell the court, that in our dealings with him, he's been truthful at all times, he has provided substantial information to the government that has advanced investigations, and special agent Garcia told you ultimately in our view, saved lives.
The Mexican mafia is, as the court knows, not only presents a risk to other inmates who are in custody. It presents a risk to sheriff's deputies that are tasked day-to-day with handling them. These are very important cases for the government to bring. The Mexican mafia in Orange County ultimately controls over 3,000 southern Hispanic gang members, with Armando Moreno and Peter Ojeda being at the top of that. After Mr. Perez's cooperation was disclosed that he would be testifying at trial, Armando Moreno very quickly decided he was not going to contest the government's case against him. Not only was he not going to contest it, but he would ultimately agree to testify, which he did, against Peter Ojeda. And so I think that Mr. Perez's cooperation resulted in other members of the organization ultimately being prosecuted, and I'd ask the court to take that into account.
AUSA McNally also told the court that due to Perez's cooperation and willingness to testify, Moreno and his co-defendants took a plea.
While in custody, Perez, who did not accrue prison rules violations, earned a high school equivalent certificate and was recently promoted in the jail kitchen. Law enforcement told the court that Perez's risk of recidivism is substantially lessened as a result of his role as an informant against the Mexican mafia.
A letter from the FBI was submitted to the court and read on the record Aug. 28, 2015. The letter reads in part:
The purpose of this letter is to advise you of the nature, extent, and circumstances of defendant Fernando Perez's (“Perez”) cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) as well as the FBI's assessment of the risks to the long-term personal safety of Perez and his family resulting from his cooperation. In 2009 and 2010, the FBI and local law enforcement agencies with whom the FBI works were investigating Orange County criminal street gangs operating under the authority of the Mexican Mafia. During the course of this investigation, Perez, who was in custody at the Orange County Jail at the time, agreed to cooperate with our investigation and began providing information relating to ongoing violent gang activity in Orange County.
During his cooperation, Perez provided information to the FBI and law enforcement on a weekly basis. The information included, among other things: (1) jailhouse “kites,” which were passed to him at the Orange County Jail, where members of Southern Hispanic street gangs subordinate to the Mexican Mafia were directing assaults and murders against enemies of the Mexican Mafia; (2) intelligence regarding the Mexican Mafia's activities inside the Orange County Jail, including the leadership and the structure that it had put in place within the jail system; and (3) information regarding the identity of individuals responsible for unsolved gang related shootings and murders in Orange County. Specifically, this information included, but was not limited to, the following:
1) From June 14, 2010, to August 14, 2011, Perez provided approximately 200 pages of notes and papers detailing the criminal activities of the Mexican Mafia and local Orange County street gangs. This information pertained to various crimes, to include conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit assault with a deadly weapon, and extortion, all relating to the federal criminal case referred to as “Operation Black Flag” (some information found in the pages provided is further detailed below).
2) Starting on or about June 14, 2010, and continuing thereafter, Perez provided the names and monikers of close to 200 active gang members primarily from Orange and Los Angeles Counties. This information was extremely useful to the FBI as well as the FBI's Santa Ana Gang Task Force, as it assisted in the identification of many gang members, thereby increasing the operational intelligence needed to promote active investigation.
3) From approximately July 1, 2010, to May 5, 2011, Perez provided detailed information relating to several gang related shootings, some of which resulted in the death of the victims. The information obtained from Perez was used to further some of these unsolved shooting/homicide cases.
4) From July 30, 2010, to February 27, 2011, Perez provided the names and/or monikers of over 30 gang members who were targeted for assault, in some cases up to and including death, by the Mexican Mafia for violations of established rules and guidelines pertaining to what is known as Mexican Mafia “politics.” Armed with this information provided by Perez, members of the law enforcement community were able to prevent significant gang and Mexican Mafia violence by notifying the intended victims of their “bad standing” within the organization and subsequently ensuring their safety.
5) From September 16, 2010, to August 14, 2011, Perez provided information in regards to drug trafficking activity occurring within the Orange County Jail system. This information resulted in multiple seizures of illegal drugs, to include methamphetamine and heroin.
6) On or about June 26, 2011, Perez notified jail staff and his handlers of an inmate who possessed a hidden 14-inch stabbing weapon within the jail. Orange County Jail deputies were able to find and confiscate the weapon without incident.
The information provided by Perez throughout his cooperation was credible. The FBI and law enforcement were able to corroborate the veracity of the information through other informants and law enforcement sources.
The information and intelligence provided by Perez to the FBI and other law enforcement permitted law enforcement to prevent acts of violence before they occurred; advanced the FBI's investigations into the Mexican Mafia and Orange County-based Southern Hispanic criminal street gangs; and identified individuals responsible for unsolved gang-related shootings and murders. In short, Perez's cooperation, in law enforcement's view, saved lives and prevented significant gang-related violence.
Perez's efforts to assist law enforcement have come at great expense to his personal safety, as well as that of his family. Because of the nature and extent of his cooperation and the fact that the cooperation has been publicly revealed, Perez is a target for retaliation by the Mexican Mafia and the criminal street gangs it controls. Indeed, the FBI and law enforcement have received credible information that individuals against whom Perez cooperated have made threats to kill Perez and his family. The risk of harm to him, as well as his family, is long-term and will continue well after his release from custody.
The United States Attorney's Office in the Central District of California has reviewed the facts laid out in this letter and concurs with them in their entirety.
Assistant District Attorneys James Laird and Scott Zidbeck of the TARGET and Gang Units, respectively, handled the sentencing hearing.
Orange County District Attorney / Case # 07WF0153 / March 4, 2016