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Press Release

‘Secretary’ to Mexican Mafia Member, who Ferried Orders from Imprisoned Gang Leader, Sentenced to over 12½ Years in Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California

         LOS ANGELES – A Whittier woman who was convicted earlier this year on several charges related to her role as a “secretary” to an imprisoned Mexican Mafia member who controlled a street gang was sentenced today to 151 months in federal prison.

         Sylvia Olivas, 73, was sentenced by United States District Judge Dale S. Fischer for playing an active role in the affairs of the Canta Ranas street gang.

         Following a 2½-week trial in February, a federal jury found Olivas guilty of participating in three separate conspiracies – one to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act, a second involving the trafficking of methamphetamine and heroin, and a third centered on money laundering.

         For at least a decade, Olivas served as the secretary to her brother, David Gavaldon, a long-time member of the Canta Ranas street gang who was not charged in this case as he is serving a life-without-parole sentence in Pelican Bay State Prison. From prison, Gavaldon exerted control over Canta Ranas and other gangs, and he received compensation in the form of “rent” or “taxes” generated by drug trafficking and other offenses committed in gang territory.

         Olivas regularly visited Gavaldon to discuss gang business and obtain orders that she brought back to the gang. 

         Olivas “was a Mexican Mafia secretary in a large-scale racketeering enterprise – a powerful and highly respected role within this criminal organization,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “Despite her false and misleading statements in trial to cover up her involvement in the CRO [Canta Ranas Organization], the evidence overwhelmingly showed that defendant knew exactly what happened in the CRO and participated in it by passing messages from Mexican Mafia leader David Gavaldon to two generations of shotcallers, delivering edicts on extortionate taxes, secretly meeting with CRO members to collect taxes and launder them through her accounts to distribute them to David Gavaldon and his chosen recipients, and using code and other measures to cover her criminal activity from law enforcement.”

         When she imposed the sentence this morning, Judge Fischer disputed Olivas’ contention that she should receive leniency because she had no prior criminal convictions. “She has been in trouble every day of her life helping the CRO, she was just never caught,” the judge said.

         Olivas was among 51 defendants charged in a 2016 federal grand jury indictment targeting Canta Ranas members and associates. Nearly all of those defendants have been convicted, including Jose Loza, the “shotcaller” of the Santa Fe Springs and Whittier-based Canta Ranas gang, who was sentenced in March to life plus an additional 30 years in federal prison.

         The RICO indictment targeting the Canta Ranas gang was the result of Operation Frog Legs, which was an investigation by the Southern California Drug Task Force, which is led by the Drug Enforcement Administration as part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) initiative. The Task Force members that participated in Operation Frog Legs were Homeland Security Investigations, the Whittier Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, IRS Criminal Investigation, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Office of Correctional Safety, Special Service Unit. The investigation was conducted with the support of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).

         The case against Olivas was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Chelsea Norell, MiRi Song and Jehan Pernas of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering, and Racketeering Section.


Thom Mrozek
Director of Media Relations
United States Attorney’s Office
Central District of California (Los Angeles)
(213) 894-6947

Updated June 29, 2020

Drug Trafficking
Violent Crime
Press Release Number: 20-109