South Carolina Man and Woman Plead Guilty to Hate Crime and Conspiracy for Bias-Motivated Armed Robberies Targeting Hispanic Victims
The Justice Department today announced that three East Los Angeles men have agreed to plead guilty to federal civil rights and racketeering charges for participating in the 2014 firebombing of African-American residences inside the Ramona Gardens Housing Development.
On the night of May 11, 2014, eight members of the Big Hazard street gang, which claims Ramona Gardens as its territory, assembled, prepared Molotov cocktails, drove outside of Ramona Gardens, then reentered the housing development on foot to avoid its security cameras. Once the gang members located their pre-selected targets, they smashed the windows of four apartments and threw lit Molotov cocktails into the residences, according to the plea agreements. Three of the four targeted apartments were occupied by African-American families, including women and children, who were sleeping at the time of the unprovoked attack.
In plea agreements filed today in the Central District of California, the three defendants – Jose Saucedo, aka “Lil’ Moe,” 24, Edwin Felix, aka “Boogie,” 26, and Jonathan Portillo, aka “Pelon,” 23, all members of the Big Hazard street gang – admitted that they targeted the apartments because of the occupants’ race and color, and with the intent to force the victims to move away from the federally funded housing complex in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles.
“The defendants’ racially motivated and unprovoked attack on families sleeping peacefully in their homes caused fear and destruction,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute violent acts of hate.”
“It was a miracle that no one was injured in these racially motivated attacks,” said United States Attorney Nicola T. Hanna. “These defendants have admitted their goal was to drive African Americans out of this housing facility. This simply will not be tolerated, and we will take any and all steps necessary to protect the civil rights of every person who lives in the United States.”
"The innocent victims of this cold-blooded attack were targeted based on the color of their skin," said Paul D. Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office. "I'm proud of the agents, detectives and prosecutors who identified the defendants and continue to investigate this very challenging case. These plea agreements are the first step in delivering justice to the victims, as well as delivering the universal message that there is no place for racially motivated hatred or violence in the United States."
All three defendants have agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to violate the civil rights of the African-American families, specifically the constitutional right to live in a residence free from “injury, intimidation and interference based on race.”
The three defendants have also agreed to plead guilty to using force – a dangerous weapon, namely, explosives, and fire – to injure, intimidate and interfere with the African-American residents because of their race and because they were living in the Ramona Gardens Housing Development. They also agreed to plead guilty to committing a violent crime in aid of racketeering on behalf of the Hazard gang.
In addition, Portillo has agreed to plead guilty to a charge of using fire to commit another federal felony. Saucedo and Felix have agreed to plead guilty to a charge of attempted malicious damage of federal property through the use of fire. Once they enter their guilty pleas, all three defendants will face potential sentences of over 30 years in federal prison.
Three other members of the Big Hazard gang who were charged in this case – Francisco Farias, aka “Bones,” 27, Joel Matthew Monarrez, aka “Gallo,” 23; and Jose Zamora, aka “Fresco,” 28 – previously pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes and related offenses. These defendants are pending sentencing.
The final two defendants charged in this case, Carlos Hernandez, aka “Rider,” 33, and Josue Garibay, aka “Malo,” 24, are scheduled for trial before United States District Judge Christina A. Snyder on July 31.
According to an indictment unsealed in the summer of 2016, Hernandez instructed the other defendants to meet at a location in Hazard gang territory on Mother’s Day in 2014, to prepare for the attack. At the meeting, Hernandez allegedly distributed materials to be used during the firebombing, including disguises, gloves, and other materials. Hernandez explained that the order for the racially motivated attack had come from the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that controls the majority of Hispanic gangs in Southern California.
Furthermore, according to the indictment, Hernandez instructed the other defendants to break the victims’ windows, allowing the Molotov cocktails to make a clean entry, ignite the firebombs, and throw them into the victims’ residences in order to maximize damage. One of the victims, a mother sleeping on her couch with her infant child in her arms, narrowly missed being struck by one of the defendants’ firebombs.
The investigation into the firebombing is being conducted by agents and detectives with the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Los Angeles Police Department; the Los Angeles Fire Department; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mack E. Jenkins, Chief of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, and Justice Department Trial Attorney Julia Gegenheimer of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section.