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Justice News

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Top Nuestra Familia Leader And Three Other Gang Members Sentenced For Murder, Racketeering

OAKLAND – Four members of the Nuestra Familia criminal organization – including the top gang leader – were sentenced to federal prison today for racketeering, murders, robberies, drug offenses, and related acts announced U.S. Attorney Brian J. Stretch, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett.

“Today, four additional members of the Nuestra Familia gang were sentenced for the heinous crimes they perpetrated upon our community, bringing to 12 the number of defendants sentenced as a result of this investigation,” said U.S. Attorney Brian J. Stretch.  “Today’s sentences have a special significance in light of the court’s findings that three of the defendants were among the highest ranked members of the organization internationally.  The sentences reflect the egregious conduct of the defendants who lured and intimidated younger members of the community into being the next generation of gang members ready to accept a life of crime, drugs, and violence.  It is with gratitude and appreciation that we congratulate the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, and the scores of local law enforcement officials who have brought this 6-year investigation to a successful conclusion.”

“Criminal enterprises like the Nuestra Familia may spawn in prisons, but they often spread into our communities and onto our streets, bringing violence and mayhem with them,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “We will continue to target these criminal organizations, dismantle their leadership, and return the violent offenders to prison.”

Nuestra Familia leader Andrew Cervantes, 60, aka “Mad Dog,” of Stockton, Calif., was sentenced to 36 years in prison.  Henry Cervantes, 52, aka “Happy,” of Lodi, Calif., was sentenced to 75 years in prison.  Alberto Larez, 48, aka “Bird,” of Salinas, Calif., was sentenced to life plus ten years in prison; Jaime Cervantes, 33, aka “Hennessy,” of San Mateo, Calif., was sentenced to 32 years in prison.

The four defendants were convicted of racketeering conspiracy and other offenses following a  three-month trial before U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers.

At today’s sentencing, Judge Gonzalez Rogers found that Andrew Cervantes was the top ranking leader, or so-called ‘overseer’, of the Nuestra Familia.  Andrew Cervantes led the criminal organization from a federal prison in Pennsylvania, using complex coded letters and telephone calls to communicate to his underlings.  He orchestrated and oversaw regiment commanders who generated money through drug sales and other crimes, like robbery.  The money was then sent up the chain to high ranking members in prison.  According to evidence introduced at trial, Andrew Cervantes used coded letters to order his fellow gang members to kill a fellow Nuestra Familia gang member for failing to uphold the rules of the organization.  A video tape was played at trial showing the man being stabbed 13 times in a cafeteria in a federal prison in Louisiana, shortly after the coded letters were written.

Henry Cervantes and Alberto Larez were Andrew Cervantes’ two highest ranking ‘street commanders’ in charge of the Nuestra Familia’s Bay Area “Street Regiment.”

In September, 2011, Henry Cervantes stabbed two people to death in an apartment in Oakland.  He then ordered two of his underlings to destroy the crime scene by pouring gasoline over the bodies and lighting them on fire.

Alberto Larez orchestrated the murder of a rival in San Jose.  According to the evidence at trial, Larez and two of his underlings traveled to San Jose, lured the rival to their location with phone calls, and then executed him with point-blank shots to the face and neck.

Jaime Cervantes was recruited by Larez to join the gang in 2010.  In the span of just over one year, Jaime Cervantes participated in three armed robberies on behalf of the gang, and stabbed a rival at the direction of his “carnal” Larez.

Nuestra Familia is a prison gang that originally formed in the California state prison system in the 1960s.  Nuestra Familia leaders control and direct the gang’s criminal activities both inside and outside of the prison system.  The defendants were members or associates of the federal branch of the Nuestra Familia, which was controlled by two principal overseers incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), including Andrew Cervantes.  Larez and Henry Cervantes were senior gang members who reported to Andrew Cervantes.  Larez recruited individuals, including Jaime Cervantes, to commit crimes on behalf of the gang and Henry Cervantes supervised the criminal activities of the gang in Oakland.  In 2010, Henry Cervantes and Larez were released from the BOP after serving sentences for racketeering conspiracy convictions in 2004 involving the distribution of controlled substances on behalf of the Nuestra Familia.

Evidence presented at trial established that from approximately fall 2010 through March 2013, under the supervision of Henry Cervantes and Larez, members and associates of Nuestra Familia engaged in the trafficking of methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin and committed robberies to raise money for themselves and the gang.  At the direction of Andrew Cervantes, Larez instructed his subordinates to send proceeds from their criminal activities to the commissary accounts of gang leaders incarcerated in several BOP facilities, including the account of Andrew Cervantes.  Larez communicated with Andrew Cervantes primarily through prison phone calls and correspondence using coded language.

The evidence presented during the trial included proof of the defendants’ involvement in several gang-related murders and attacks including the following:

  • In September 2011, Jaime Cervantes and another gang member burned the bodies of two murder victims in an apartment in Oakland based on orders from Henry Cervantes. 
  • In January 2012, Jaime Cervantes and two other gang members committed a home invasion robbery of a drug dealer.  During the robbery, Jaime Cervantes beat one victim over the head with a baseball bat and another victim was shot. 
  • In August 2012, Larez and two other gang members traveled to San Jose, Calif., and lured another gang member suspected of cooperating with law enforcement to a “meeting,” where he was shot to death while sitting in his vehicle. 
  • In late 2012, while incarcerated at U.S. Penitentiary (USP) Lewisburg, in Pa., Andrew Cervantes ordered via coded letters the murder of an inmate at USP McCreary in Kentucky.  In March 2013, the inmate – whom Andrew Cervantes believed had violated gang rules – was assaulted and stabbed by two Nuestra Familia inmates in the prison dining facility and survived.  The Government introduced a video at trial of the stabbing.

Today’s sentencing marks the culmination of a six-year investigation and prosecution of Nuestra Familia, which resulted in the convictions of 12 members and associates of the gang.  Eight co-defendants previously pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other offenses and were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from eight to 15 years. 

The case was investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of California, with assistance from the BOP.  Additional assistance was provided by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office; the Oakland Police Department; the San Jose Police Department; the Red Bluff Police Department; the Livermore Police Department; the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office; the Campbell Police Department; the Tehama County District Attorney’s Office; and the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph M. Alioto Jr. and William Frentzen, and trial Attorney Robert S. Tully of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section prosecuted the case with assistance from Kevin Costello, Courtney Fisher, Melissa Dorton, Daniel Charlier-Smith, Lance Libatique, and Lauren Hipolito. 

Drug Trafficking
Firearms Offenses
Violent Crime
Updated December 27, 2016