Two Leaders of El Monte Street Gang Receive 15-Year Prison Terms for Federal Racketeering, Narcotics and Money Laundering Offenses
LOS ANGELES – A Mexican Mafia member who was the primary “shotcaller” of the El Monte Flores street gang, and another man who was a key leader of the gang, have each received 15-year prison terms after pleading guilty to federal racketeering offenses. A third man who was a member of the gang has received a sentence of nearly 11 years in prison.
The three gang members were sentenced yesterday as part of a 2014 racketeering case that targeted the El Monte Flores gang, an organization that takes direction from the Mexican Mafia prison gang and controls criminal activity in the cities of El Monte and South El Monte.
James “Chemo” Gutierrez, 53, of El Monte, who is the Mexican Mafia member and the lead defendant in the indictment, and Kenneth Cofer, 37, also of El Monte, were sentenced to 180 months in prison by United States District Judge John A. Kronstadt.
Gutierrez and Coffer pleaded guilty in April to conspiring to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. They also each pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute controlled substances, including methamphetamine and heroin, and conspiring to launder money. Additionally, Cofer pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
The third gang member sentenced yesterday – John Rivera, 54, of El Monte – pleaded guilty in December 2015 to conspiring to violate the RICO Act and conspiring to distribute narcotics Judge Kronstadt ordered Rivera to serve 130 months in prison.
The RICO indictment alleged that members of the El Monte Flores gang committed crimes that included acts of violence (ranging from battery to murder), drug trafficking, robbery, burglary, carjacking, witness intimidation, kidnapping, weapons trafficking, credit card fraud, identity theft and money laundering.
“We now have secured lengthy prison terms for key members of one of the oldest street gangs in Los Angeles County after using the federal racketeering statute to dismantle the organization’s leadership structure,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Even with significant gains made by law enforcement, street gangs remain one of the most dangerous criminal elements in the region and a significant contributor to violent crime. We are committed, however, to restoring order in neighborhoods affected by the violence and drug trafficking perpetrated by street gangs like the El Monte Flores gang.”
In a plea agreement filed with the court, Gutierrez admitted that he “regularly received extortionate ‘tax’ payments from individuals trafficking narcotics in the neighborhoods controlled by the El Monte Flores gang.” Gutierrez “knew that the narcotics traffickers would be subject to violent attacks if they failed to pay the extortionate taxes to the El Monte Flores gang.” Gutierrez acknowledged in his plea agreement that he authorized an attack on a rival gang member.
Prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum that Gutierrez deserved a lengthy prison term due to his “pivotal role in the gang’s drug distribution, extortion, and violent activity.” The court filing notes that Gutierrez has a long criminal record, including a racketeering-related murder that resulted in a 20-year federal prison term.
Cofer admitted in his plea agreement that he “managed and supervised the extortion and drug trafficking activities…[and] directed the use of violence on behalf” of the criminal enterprise. Cofer specifically admitted that he authorized the shooting of a person who had a dispute with another member of the gang.
Gutierrez and Cofer admitted their roles in threats to use violence to extort “taxes” from drug dealers and fraudulent document vendors at “Crawford’s Plaza,” a shopping center at Valley Boulevard and Garvey Avenue.
When Rivera pleaded guilty, he admitted collecting “taxes” from gang members and transferring that money to Gutierrez. He also acknowledged distributing large quantities of methamphetamine. “[D]espite spending the majority of the last 31 years in custody, [Rivera] has not learned his lesson and continues to commit new crimes,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
In addition to Gutierrez, Cofer and Rivera, 31 other defendants named in the RICO indictment have pleaded guilty.
The investigation into the El Monte Flores gang was conducted by a task force that included the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; IRS Criminal Investigation; and the El Monte Police Department.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jeff Mitchell and Aron Ketchel of the Violent and Organized Crime Section.