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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Soledad Norteño Gang Member Sentenced To Eight Years In Prison For Participation In Federal Rico Conspiracy

Defendant Conspired to Commit Coordinated Violent Gang Attacks Against Other Inmates And to Sell Drugs in Monterey County Jail

SAN JOSE – Michael Cazares, a/k/a “Lil Rhino,” was sentenced today in federal court to eight years in prison for his racketeering conspiracy convictions, announced Acting United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair. 

Cazares, 30, of Soledad, was a Norteño gang member who participated in a conspiracy to commit violent attacks on other inmates in the Monterey County Jail.  He pleaded guilty on June 10, 2021, to engaging in a RICO Conspiracy, Conspiracy to  Commit Murder in Aid of Racketeering, and Conspiracy to Commit Assault with a Dangerous Weapon in Aid of Racketeering. 

In his plea agreement, Cazares admitted to being a member of the Nuestra Familia/Salinas Norteños enterprise.  This enterprise consists of members and associates of the Nuestra Familia prison gang as well as Norteño street gangs in Salinas and the surrounding areas.  Norteño gang members pledge their allegiance and loyalty to the prison gang Nuestra Familia and are instructed on its rules, rituals, and obligations.  Members agree to commit crimes to carry out the enterprise’s racketeering activity, including murder, narcotics trafficking, and other acts of violence.

Gang rules and discipline are enforced by threatening and attacking those individuals who violate the rules or pose a threat to the organization.  Inside prisons and local jails, members and associates of Nuestra Familia and the Norteños work together to maintain the structure and rules of their enterprise.

In his plea agreement, Cazares admitted that while in jail he conspired with enterprise members to enforce the most important rules by conducting “removals” of inmates.  His plea agreement described a “removal” as a pre-planned vicious attack designed to inflict maximum physical injury on a fellow inmate gang member who committed a serious infraction of the gang’s rules and to remove that gang member from both the gang’s custodial housing unit and the gang itself.  A removal, as described in the plea agreement, is carried out by one or more “hitters” who stab the victim with a jail-made weapon and are followed by at least two “bombers” who beat the victim.  The purpose of the subsequent beating by bombers, who carry no weapons, is to inflict injury while providing time for the hitters to wash blood off of themselves and to get rid of the weapons.

Drug trafficking inside jail is a significant source of revenue for Nuestra Familia and Norteños.  Cazares further admitted that he also conspired with other gang members in the enterprise to support the distribution of narcotics within Monterey County Jail.

Cazares and 14 other Norteño gang members were indicted by a federal grand jury on September 27, 2018.  They were charged with one count of a RICO racketeering conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); one count of conspiracy to commit attempted murder in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(5); and one count of conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(6).  In addition, some of the defendants, but not Cazares, were charged with attempted murder in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(5) and assault with a dangerous weapon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(3). 

To date, 13 of the charged defendants have pleaded guilty and 12 have been sentenced, while two defendants remain scheduled for a trial set to commence on October 25, 2021.  Each of the 13 defendants listed below pleaded guilty to a RICO conspiracy, and their status is as follows:

Defendant

Date of Sentencing

Sentence

JOHNNY MAGDALENO, a/k/a “Soldier Boy”

November 10, 2020

30 years in prison

RODNEY LUIS ROMERO,

a/k/a “Speedy”

November 17, 2020

18 years in prison

MICHAEL JAMES RICE,

a/k/a “Redwood”

March 3, 2020

13 years in prison

RAMON MONTOYA,

a/k/a “Ray Ray”

October 27, 2020

10 years in prison

JUAN ALVAREZ,

a/k/a “Chucky”

August 17, 2021

10 years in prison

ERIK LOPEZ,

a/k/a “Bimbo”

August 18, 2020

10 years in prison

ALEJO ALEX ALEGRE, IV,

a/k/a “Chino”

October 13, 2020

10 years in prison

CARLOS CERVANTES, a/k/a “Lil Huero”

September 22, 2020

10 years in prison

MICHAEL CAZARES, a/k/a “Lil Rhino”

September 28, 2021

8 years in prison

ALBERTO MORENO,

a/k/a “Doughboy”

January 7, 2020

7 years in prison

STEVEN ANTHONY DORADO,

a/k/a “Castro”

July 14, 2020

7 years in prison

JEFFREY LOPEZ,

a/k/a “T-Bone”

May 11, 2020

7 years in prison

ALBERTO CERVANTES, a/k/a “Littles”

November 2, 2021

TBD – pending sentencing

The eight year prison sentence for Cazares was handed down today by the Honorable Beth Labson Freeman, United States District Judge, following Cazares’s guilty pleas on  three counts: one count of engaging in a RICO racketeering conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); one count of conspiracy to commit attempted murder in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(5); and one count of conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(6).  Judge Freeman also sentenced the defendant to a five year period of supervised release following release from prison.

The United States Attorney’s Office’s Organized Crime Strike Force is prosecuting the case. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI with assistance from the Salinas Police Department, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. 

This investigation and prosecution are part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”), which identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.     

Updated September 28, 2021