Valley Gangsters Get Decades-Long Prison Terms
(LOS ANGELES) – A San Fernando Valley gang member who was associated with the Vineland Boys street gang was sentenced today to life without parole in federal prison for his conviction on charges in a federal racketeering indictment. Five members of the Vineland Boys gang also have been sentenced over the past two days, receiving prison terms as long as 40 years.
Sergio Mejia, 39, of Arleta, was sentenced today to life in federal prison by United States District Judge John F. Walter in Los Angeles. Mejia was found guilty at trial last year of trafficking in crack cocaine and other narcotics. Sergio Mejia and eight other men were convicted following a jury trial last year of various charges in the racketeering indictment that outlined a series of narcotics, weapons and violent crime offenses. Seven of the defendants were convicted of participating in a racketeering enterprise that, among other things, was responsible for the murder of a Burbank Police Officer.
The sentence given to Sergio Mejia this morning is the first life sentence resulting from Operation Silent Night, an investigation that led to a wide-ranging indictment alleging violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. A total of 49 defendants were named in the indictment. Thirty-eight of the defendants have been convicted of various federal charges.
Judge Walter sentenced two other defendants in the case today. Sergio Mejia’s brother + Jose Luis Mejia, 37, of Bakersfield, who was also convicted of the various narcotics offenses + was sentenced to 27 years in prison. Francisco Zambrano, 27, of Mission Hills, was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Like seven of the defendants who went to trial, Zambrano was found guilty of violating the RICO Act. Among other crimes, the jury determined that Zambrano participated in the attempted murder of four people, including three members of the United States Marines Corps.
The Vineland Boys was a powerful street gang with cliques operating in parts of Burbank, North Hollywood, Sun Valley and Palmdale. The gang had an extensive drug-trafficking network, which distributed cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana throughout the Los Angeles area, as well as in Hawaii, Indiana and the East Coast of the United States. In addition to the sale of narcotics, the gang engaged in acts of violence to protect its turf. The indictment specifically linked the gang to four murders, including the fatal shooting of Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka and the attempted murder of his partner, Detective Greg Campbell.
Recently, Judge Walter sentenced four of the defendants convicted at trial. On Monday he sentenced:
On January 19, Gilberto Carrasco, 27, of Sun Valley, who was found to have aided the man who killed Officer Pavelka, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The remaining defendants convicted at trial + Rafael Yepiz, 35, of Reseda, and Ernesto Orozco Mendez, 39, of Sylmar + are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Walter on February 26. Yepiz faces a mandatory life sentence, and Mendez faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison.
In addition to those found guilty at trial, Judge Walter has sentenced 19 gang members and associates who pleaded guilty. Several of the leaders and senior members of the Vineland Boys who pleaded guilty have received prison sentences of more than 20 years. Currently, there are 10 other defendants in addition to Mendez and Rafael Yepiz who are awaiting sentencing.
Ralph W. Partridge, DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge in Los Angeles, said: “The sentences in this case send a clear message that drug dealers and the violence they bring to our communities won't be tolerated. DEA will continue to work in partnership with our local, state and federal counterparts to dismantle criminal drug gangs such as this and to reduce drug related activities throughout our communities.”
“The RICO statute has proven to be the perfect tool to take the leadership of the Vineland Boys off the streets and put them into federal prisons,” said Acting United States Attorney George S. Cardona. “With criminal street gangs gaining sophistication and extending their reach across international borders, law enforcement must react with increasingly strong tools to combat their criminal acts and senseless acts of violence. The RICO statute has, in this case, been used to make dramatic changes in our neighborhoods.”
Debra D. King, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation Division in Los Angeles, stated: “The long prison sentences, including life in prison, handed down to the members of the Vineland Boys street gang, subsequent to their conviction at trial for racketeering offenses, including narcotics trafficking and attempted murder, are appropriate and well deserved. These sentences send a clear message that IRS - Criminal Investigation is committed in our efforts, in conjunction with our federal, state and local counterparts, to make our cities and communities safer by investigating and bringing to justice these types of criminal organizations.”
Four other defendants named in the indictment are pending trial, including three alleged gang members who face the death penalty if convicted of a charge related to the murder of a 16-year-old girl who had testified against a Vineland Boys member.
This case is the product of an 18-month investigation by the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (HIDTA), which is made up of agents and officers from several agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Los Angeles Police Department and IRS Criminal Investigation. The Burbank Police Department and the Glendale Police Department also participated in the investigation.