LOS ANGELES – Six members of the Canta Ranas Organization (CRO) – a violent, Mexican Mafia-affiliated criminal enterprise composed of members and associates of the Canta Ranas street gang – have been convicted of numerous federal offenses, including participating in a racketeering scheme.
The six defendants linked to Canta Ranas, a gang that operates primarily in Santa Fe Springs and Whittier, each were found guilty of being part of a conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The convictions came in two jury trials, the second of which ended this week.
“This dangerous organization caused misery in several communities by regularly engaging in acts of violence, drug trafficking and other criminal acts,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “These convictions are part a larger case that illustrates our dedication to improve our communities by combating the mayhem caused by violent criminal gangs. I am grateful to our law enforcement partners, including local police agencies like the Whittier Police Department, who make it possible for us to bring significant criminal cases that reduce the negative impacts caused by groups like the Mexican Mafia.”
After three weeks of testimony, the first trial concluded on August 27 with three CRO members being found guilty of various federal offenses, including violating the RICO Act. The defendants found guilty by the federal jury were:
- Enrique Holguin, also known as “Boxer,” 56, a senior member of the Canta Ranas gang, who was shown to have been in direct communication with the leader of the CRO – Mexican Mafia member David Gavaldon, who is currently serving a life sentence in state prison after being convicted of murder. Prosecutors argued that Holguin played a key role in the CRO, which included acting on behalf of Gavaldon to set up a “mesa” – an ad hoc commission of Mexican Mafia-affiliated inmates designed to control illegal activities – inside the California Institute for Men in Chino. In addition to the RICO conspiracy count, the jury also convicted Holguin of committing a violent act in aid of racketeering (VICAR) for his role in the attempted assault of a fellow inmate at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown because the intended target was perceived to be an informant for law enforcement authorities.
- Donald Goulet, also known as “Wacky,” 31, was a foot soldier involved in drug trafficking, collecting extortionate “taxes,” and committing violent crimes on behalf of Gavaldon and the CRO. At trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Goulet was also tasked with helping Gavaldon to expand the CRO's territory into Riverside. Prosecutors also presented evidence of a home invasion robbery, during which Goulet and a co-conspirator tied up victims with duct tape at gun point while they ransacked the victims' home. The federal jury convicted Goulet of participating in the RICO conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
- Emanuel Higuera, also known as “Blanco,” 33 – who was a member of the Brown Brotherhood, another gang controlled by Gavaldon – was found guilty of trafficking drugs on behalf of the CRO. In addition to the RICO conspiracy, Higuera was found guilty of methamphetamine-related offenses, one of which involved Higuera attempting to assault law enforcement officers.
On the second day of the August trial, a fourth defendant, Juan Nila, 25, pleaded guilty to his involvement in the RICO conspiracy and drug trafficking conspiracy.
The second trial concluded on Tuesday after a jury heard testimony for one week. After only two hours of deliberations, the jury convicted two more members of the CRO on charges of conspiracy to violate RICO, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The two defendants found guilty were:
- Monica Rodriguez, also known as “Smiley,” 40, one of Gavaldon's “secretaries,” who passed gang-related messages between Gavaldon and gang members, and generally acted as Gavaldon's eyes and ears on the street. During the trial, the jury saw a video of a meeting between Rodriguez and Gavaldon, who at the time was being housed in Pelican Bay State Prison, in which Rodriguez asked Gavaldon to order the death of another member of the organization.
- Alexis Jaimez, also known as “Lex,” 30, another CRO “foot soldier,” who was involved in a failed scheme to smuggle drugs into a California state prison. The evidence presented at the trial also showed that that Jaimez was involved in a gang-related assault that resulted in severe, permanent injuries to the victim.
As a result of these convictions, all six defendants face a statutory maximum penalty of life in federal prison. Additionally, Goulet, Higuera, Rodriguez, and Jaimez face mandatory minimum prison terms of 10 years, while Nila faces a mandatory minimum prison term of five years. United States District Judge R. Gary Klausner is scheduled to sentence these defendants later this year.
These two trials arise from a federal grand jury indictment charging 48 defendants that was the result of Operation “Frog Legs.” With the recent convictions and guilty pleas from several other defendants, 38 defendants remain scheduled to go to trial in groups beginning in November.