LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles man and his long-time girlfriend have been found guilty of racketeering conspiracy for collecting and storing extortionate “taxes” for the man's brother, an imprisoned Mexican Mafia member, and for acting as the brother's eyes and ears on the street, delivering coded messages to him, including one message that resulted in an individual being marked for death.
Thomas Gonzales, 60, and Gloria Valerio, 66, both of the Elysian Valley neighborhood in the City of Los Angeles, were found guilty Monday of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) after a two-week federal jury trial. Gonzales also was found guilty of making a false statement to a law enforcement officer.
Gonzales and Valerio were named in a 2015 federal RICO indictment that charged 22 defendants and outlined how Gonzales's brother, Mexican Mafia member and senior Frogtown gang member Arnold “Arnie” Gonzales, 58, had ordered the unification of the traditional rival Los Angeles street gangs of Frogtown, Toonerville, and Rascals. The inter-gang alliance began in 2010 and resulted in the three gangs controlling the narcotics trade and other illegal activities in an area along the Los Angeles River that ran from Elysian Park nearly to Burbank. Through violence and threats of violence, senior members collected money, or “taxes,” from legitimate and illegal businesses in the area for Arnie Gonzales's benefit. Prosecutors previously obtained 19 convictions in this case with some defendants receiving sentences of up to 25 years in federal prison. Gonzales and Valerio were the last two defendants still facing charges.
According to the evidence presented at trial, Gonzales and Valerio acted as “secretaries,” or people who act as the bridge between imprisoned members of the Mexican Mafia prison gang and the gang members on the street. “Secretaries” often are not gang members themselves and have normal jobs and minimal criminal histories, which is why the Mexican Mafia targets them to be used as intermediaries, as they are able to make prison visits to Mexican Mafia members without arousing suspicion. In this case, Valerio worked as an insurance analyst and Thomas Gonzales was an HVAC technician.
At trial, jurors saw more than 35 video clips from 11 prison visits in 2012 and 2013 where Valerio and Thomas Gonzales visited Arnie Gonzales, who was serving a life sentence at Pelican Bay State Prison for a murder conviction. As Arnie Gonzales's eyes and ears on the streets, Thomas Gonzales and Valerio stored the extortionate “tax” money gang leaders had collected from street gangs in Arnie Gonzales's name within the territories controlled by him. Valerio deposited some of that money into Arnie Gonzales's prison account. A search warrant executed at the defendants' residence in June 2015 resulted in the seizure of more than $22,000 in cash.
The evidence at trial also showed that the defendants used coded language to inform Arnie Gonzales about an individual who was falsely claiming to have the authority to collect “taxes” on Arnie Gonzales's behalf. That individual later was marked for death, the jury heard.
United States District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez has scheduled a June 3 sentencing hearing for both defendants. Gonzales and Valerio face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison on the racketeering conspiracy count. Gonzales faces an additional statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison on the false statements count.
This case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation – Special Service Unit; the Glendale Police Department; and the Los Angeles Police Department