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April 23, 2009

RAZA UNIDA PRISON GANG MEMBERS AND ASSOCIATES INDICTED ON DRUG TRAFFICKING AND FIREARMS CHARGES

(HOUSTON) - Fifteen alleged members and associates of the Raza Unida (RU) prison and street gang have been indicted for trafficking in significant quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine and possessing firearms unlawfully and during the commission of drug trafficking offenses, acting United States Attorney Tim Johnson, FBI Special Agent in Charge Andrew Bland and Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt announced today. Four of the defendants will appear this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Calvin Botley, with the remaining defendants expected to appear tomorrow.

Operation Lunar Eclipse is a three-year-long investigation by the Multi-Agency Gang Task Force (MAGTF) comprised of personnel from the FBI, the Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Department of State, the Bureau of Prisons and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice resulting in the return of a 14-count indictment. Today, with the assistance of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS); the Houston, Baytown and Mission, Texas, Police Departments; and the Hidalgo and Victoria County Sheriffs’ Offices, members of the Multi-Agency Gang Task Force arrested several members and associates of the notorious RU prison and street gang.

The indictment, returned on April 15, 2009, was unsealed today following the arrest of the alleged members and associates of the gang accused of being involved in trafficking large quantities of illegal drugs to make money for the prison gang. Eleven of the 15 charged were arrested in the Houston and McAllen area. Each is expected to make their initial appearance before a U.S. Magistrate in Houston or McAllen later today. The United States will seek to hold the defendants in federal custody without bond pending their trial. Three others are currently in state or federal custody on other charges. A warrant remains outstanding for the arrest of one charged but not yet in custody.

The RU prison gang was formed in 1993 within the Texas prison system. A highly organized group with specific rules and regulations, the RU demands loyalty from their membership and participation in the criminal activities of the gang including its primary illegal activity to generate money to support the gang – narcotics trafficking. Gang members identify themselves by marking their bodies with tattoos of the words “Raza,” “Raza Unida,” the letters “R” and “U” as well as the numbers “18” and “21” which correspond to the numerical place of the letters “R” and “U” within the alphabet. The RU has its own leadership structure within each city and prison facility in which they operate and communicate with one another both inside and outside the prison system. Individuals who perform work for or do business with the RU but are not members or prospective members are called associates.  
 
“The illegal drug trafficking activities and associated violence conducted by prison gangs and their associates pose a continuing threat to our communities and within our prisons – they cannot be permitted to go unchecked,” said Johnson. “This case and those brought within the last year are proof that we will dedicate the resources to investigate and prosecute gang members and their associates with the aim of disrupting and dismantling their organizations.”   

Operation Lunar Eclipse is but the latest in a series of ongoing investigations undertaken by the federal, state and local agency partners of the Multi-Agency Gang Task Force that has resulted in the filing of formal federal charges against gang members and their associates within the last year.

“The Multi-Agency Gang Task Force was specifically created to dismantle gangs through collaborative, sophisticated, intelligence-driven investigations,” Bland said. “This highly effective task force is comprised of hard working men and women who have successfully taken off of our streets members of some of the area’s most feared, dangerous and violent gangs, to include MS-13, the Texas Syndicate, the Houstones, the Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos, the 4th Street Bloods, and in today’s arrests, the Raza Unida. This is another example of the depth of commitment on the part of participating agencies to use all of the resources available to relentlessly target those gangs that employ violence and criminal activity, thereby undermining the safety of our communities.”

“Our charge against criminals, specifically gangs such as this, is steadfast and direct,” said Hurtt. “HPD will not tolerate criminal activity and will go after and arrest anyone who commits crime in our city. HPD continues to be a proud partner with the United States Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and others in the Multi-Agency Task Force in the fight against a criminal enterprise that knows no jurisdictional boundaries. Our team effort continues to show positive results for our city in that gang related violent crime declined 30% in 2008 as opposed to 2007, and continues this year with a 20% reduction from the 2008 levels.”

Between October 2007 through April 2009, the indictment alleges the 15 members and associates of the RU conspired to procure the illegal drugs, to use “stash” houses to store, wrap, package and distribute the drugs to numerous associates involved in drug trafficking in order to carry out the business of the gang and using houses, apartments, hotel rooms, vehicles and cellular telephones to further their illicit drug trade. Several defendants are accused in separate charges of possessing with intent to distribute varying quantities of cocaine or methamphetamines during the course of the conspiracy. One defendant is accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm and using and carrying the firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. 

While effecting arrests today, investigating agents seized nine firearms and a vehicle with a hidden compartment containing traces of narcotics and a set of handcuffs.

The conspiracy charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of no less than 10 years imprisonment up to a life term of imprisonment and a $4 million fine upon conviction. The separate substantive counts carry an equal or lesser sentence depending on the amount of drugs involved in the offense.  A conviction for use or carrying a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense carries a mandatory five-year sentence which must be served consecutive to any prison term imposed for the underlying drug offense. A felon in possession of a firearm charge carries a maximum punishment of 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

At the initial appearance of each of the defendants taken into custody today, the United States will seek an order to detain without bond pending trial:

 

NAME                                                     AGE                     CITY OF RESIDENCE

PEDRO MUNIZ, aka Pete                                 36                                Houston

GREGORY AMADOR, a.k.a. Mario                   32                                Houston

GILBERTO ESPINOSA                                       28                                Houston         
                                   
BRANDELL HUMBIRD                                        36                               West Colombia, Brazoria County                                        

SAMUEL MALDONADO                                      33                                Houston

ESTEBAN MARTINEZ, aka 21 and Viente Un 37                                Pharr              

RICARDO OBANDO, aka Rick                            35                                Houston/Bellaire

RAMON PENA, aka Twin                                    29                                Houston         

ARNOLD RAMOS, aka Coach                             38                                Houston

RENE RUIZ                                                            26                               Houston

RAUL SEGURA, aka Gooey                                 36                                Houston         

A Warrant remains outstanding for the arrest of Henry Garcia, aka Shorty, 30, of Victoria, Texas. Anyone having information regarding his whereabouts is asked to contact the Houston office of the FBI at (713) 693-5000. 

The United States will seek orders to transfer the following three defendants charged in this case and presently in state or federal custody to Houston for court proceedings:

RAY CONTRERAS                                                        34                                Houston

ROBERTO ESCOBAR, aka Mundo                             38                                Houston/Bryan

MARIO GARZA, aka Green Eyes                              37                                 Houston.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Braley, the Anti-Gang Coordinator for the Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

 

 

 

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