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  1. #1
    Senior Member controlledImmigration's Avatar
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    Aug 2007

    Members of San Manuel Indians linked to Mexican Mafia

    Members of San Manuel Indians linked to Mexican Mafia

    10:00 PM PDT on Wednesday, September 19, 2007

    The Press-Enterprise

    Authorities say that several members of a wealthy Inland gambling tribe have links to the Mexican Mafia and other criminal gangs, according to law-enforcement officials and documents from a pending court case.

    Among the members of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians with alleged gang ties, two are charged with conspiracy to commit murder in a case involving gang members, according to authorities. They were arrested during a drug bust at the reservation and in the San Bernardino area in December.

    Suspected Mexican Mafia members, arrested in the same Drug Enforcement Administration-related raids, are co-defendants in the murder-conspiracy case, which is scheduled to return Wednesday to San Bernardino County Superior Court. A preliminary hearing could be scheduled at that time.

    An analysis of court records in that case and others involving tribal members, along with interviews with law-enforcement officials, show that at least four members of the 200-person tribe are suspected of having ties to criminal gangs.

    Among the findings:

    Law enforcement authorities say that tribal member Stacy Cheyenne Barajas-Nunez, 24, has bought vehicles for gang members suspected in crimes, has hidden suspects and has served as a financial backer for gangs.

    Barajas-Nunez and her brother, Erik Barajas, 34, were arrested Dec. 12 on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder along with reputed members of the Mexican Mafia. Barajas-Nunez also faces drug charges. The two have pleaded innocent.

    Authorities identify tribal member Robert Vincent Martinez III, 27, as a gang member who was charged with attempted murder in connection with a 2004 shooting outside The Brass Key, a Highland bar. The charges were later dismissed.

    Authorities say tribal member Valerie Gonzales, 29, allowed her 1997 black BMW to be used by her boyfriend at the time, a suspected gang member charged with killing four gang leaders in 2000. Authorities said Luis Alonso Mendoza, the boyfriend, used her car to get to and from the scene of the killings.

    The San Manuel tribe said in a written statement and interview that officials are cooperating with investigators and working to protect the casino, patrons and tribal members from criminals.

    "Truly, the tribe is looking absolutely at being part of the solution. San Manuel Indian reservation is not the problem. The problem is countywide, regionwide, in fact, it's all over the country," said Jacob Coin, director of communications for the tribe. "We are just in the way -- the path -- of these kinds of criminal activities."

    Coin said the tribe has a security checkpoint where guests are stopped before getting access to reservation homes, but "crime finds a way to infiltrate even the safest and most secure of cities."

    One court record, listed as "DEA sensitive," described an October meeting between law-enforcement officials, including a San Manuel security staff member and a San Bernardino police officer. They discussed fears that Mexican Mafia "gang members had infiltrated the Indian reservation and were extorting some of the tribal members for money."

    San Manuel tribal members receive profit checks -- listed in court documents as $100,000 a month -- from the casino, which draws customers from across Southern California.

    Coin would not address that allegation about casino-profit checks.

    "The tribal government would have no real way to control how the tribal members spend it," he said.

    'Particularly Vulnerable'

    Critics of California's Indian gambling industry argued a decade ago that tribal casinos would be vulnerable to organized crime without strict outside regulation, much as Las Vegas was until regulation increased.

    An investigation by a U.S. Senate committee in the 1950s found widespread evidence of criminal influence and skimming in Las Vegas casinos, prompting a crackdown on criminal involvement in casinos and forcing the mob eventually to sell their casino interests.

    Stan Lim / The Press-Enterprise
    San Manuel tribal officials say they are cooperating with investigators to protect the casino and tribe from crime.

    Tribal casinos are regulated by a tribal gambling agency, state agencies and the federal government. State and federal regulators said they were unfamiliar with possible connections between San Manuel members and organized crime, but many have warned against the risk for years.

    Federal investigators this year said they busted an organized crime ring based in San Diego County. They accused the group of running card-cheating scams in 10 Indian casinos, including some in Southern California.

    "They're particularly vulnerable to organized crime inside and out," said Gareth Lacy, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office. "Any casino that is handling large amounts of cash -- it's a potential target for criminal activity."

    The National Indian Gaming Commission, a federal agency charged with limiting organized crime influence in Indian casinos, has not found any violations at the San Manuel casino, said Shawn Pensoneau, a spokesman for the commission.

    The tribe defended its regulatory system in its written statement.

    "The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, like other tribes engaged in government gaming, has instituted strong and effective regulatory and oversight systems at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino," the statement said. "The regulatory efforts are led by the tribe's own gaming commission and surveillance and security agencies. Beyond that, the casino complies with the myriad of state and federal laws and regulations aimed at protecting the gaming activities from undue influences and corruption."

    Drug Bust

    Deputy District Attorney Cheryl Kersey, the leading gang prosecutor for San Bernardino County, said she has noticed a connection between Hispanic gangs in Southern California and San Manuel tribal members in recent years.

    Kersey is the prosecutor in the case involving Barajas, Barajas-Nunez and brothers Salvador Orozco Hernandez, 42, and Alfred Orozco Hernandez, 38, described as gang members in police records.

    They were arrested when authorities raided four homes on the reservation and others off the reservation in December as part of a seven-month undercover DEA investigation targeting the Mexican Mafia and its methamphetamine trafficking and street crime, officials said at the time.

    The Mexican Mafia, which controls territory from the Mexican border to Bakersfield, uses its power to run a criminal empire inside and outside prison walls, according to prison and law enforcement sources.

    At a Dec. 12 news conference, authorities announced that 400 Inland law-enforcement officers working with the DEA executed 43 search warrants that resulted in 19 arrests and the seizure of $1 million in methamphetamine and cash as well as 56 guns.

    According to court records from the DEA case, all four -- the Hernandez brothers as well as Barajas-Nunez and her brother, Erik -- are charged with conspiracy to commit murder as well as carrying out the crime in association of, and to benefit, a criminal street gang.

    Salvador Hernandez, described in the court documents as a top Mexican Mafia member in Southern California, and Barajas-Nunez, a tribal member, are charged in the same counts of transporting and possessing methamphetamine.

    In court documents, Barajas-Nunez is described as helping support gang members' families and paying rent and providing vehicles for gang members. Authorities say she has bailed gang members out of jail.

    According to a DEA document in the case, Alfred Hernandez plotted to sell a half-pound of methamphetamine during a meeting at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino with an unnamed buyer.

    On Wednesday, Barajas-Nunez said in a brief telephone conversation that she is frustrated by the charges. Her attorney, Albert Perez Jr., said that the allegations against his client are not true.

    "The authorities do what they do," Perez said. "We're still trying to figure all this out -- that's the God-honest truth."

    Mayra Romero, 27, identified in court records as a close friend, described Barajas-Nunez as a full-time married mother of four boys -- two 15-year-olds she adopted and two other children, ages 3 and 4.

    "They're painting her as this mafia person, drug-dealer, and that's not her," Romero said. "Anybody who knows her, knows she's all about her four kids."

    Calls made to the Bloomington home of Salvador Hernandez were not returned.

    In a December interview at the house, Janet Hernandez described her husband as a good father and husband who worked as a steel cutter.

    The conspiracy to commit murder charges against Barajas-Nunez, Barajas and the Hernandez brothers stem from an alleged plot to murder the manager of The Brass Key, a Highland bar. The business is owned by Greg Duro, son of tribal Chairman Henry Duro.

    Fatal Shootings

    The former manager, who is not being identified, said he believed he was the target in the murder-conspiracy scheme because he was friends with James Seay, a bar patron and brother of former San Diego Chargers football player Mark Seay, according to court documents. Court records don't make clear why the manager was targeted.

    James Seay was shot and wounded in front of The Brass Key on May 17, 2004. Tribal member Robert Vincent Martinez III was charged in the case, but the charges were later dismissed, records show.

    Seay, citing his lost wages and injuries, sued Martinez on May 9, 2005. In court records, Martinez's lawyer, Trent Copeland, referred to the suit as a "sham" and "extortion."

    Nonetheless, Martinez settled the case. Police records show Seay was then fatally shot in front of his mother's house in San Bernardino within days of receiving a settlement of more than $500,000. The killing remains unsolved.

    In what authorities describe as another link, tribal member Valerie Gonzales also has ties to gang members who are charged with murdering four gang leaders in 2000, Kersey said.

    Gonzales was dating Luis Alonso Mendoza , 31, law enforcement officials said. Authorities say he used her car July 9, 2000, when the gang members were slain. The three defendants -- Mendoza, Lorenzo Inez Arias and John Adrian Ramirez -- face the death penalty if convicted.

    The shootings were dubbed the "Dead Presidents" murders because the deceased were suspected of being gang leaders.

    Opening statements for all three defendants are expected to begin in mid-January in San Bernardino County Superior Court. ... b4fcc.html

  2. #2
    Administrator Jean's Avatar
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    May 2006
    2 from `La Eme' convicted in conspiracy to kill witness
    Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
    Article Launched: 08/29/2008 08:42:26 PM PDT

    The reputed leader of the Inland Empire section of the Mexican Mafia and his brother were sentenced Friday in San Bernardino Superior Court for their roles in a murder conspiracy involving two San Manuel tribal members.
    Salvador Orozco Hernandez, 43, of Bloomington was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and his brother Alfred Hernandez, 39, was sentenced to nine years in prison.

    Under a plea agreement reached in April with county prosecutors, the siblings each pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder with a gang enhancement.

    The two were arrested in December 2006 with dozens of others during a joint investigation between the Drug Enforcement Administration and the San Bernardino Police Department into the Mexican Mafia's methamphetamine racket in San Bernardino.

    The investigation uncovered evidence that the Hernandez brothers were working with siblings Stacy Barajas-Nunez and Erik Barajas, both San Manuel tribal members, to kill a witness to the May 2004 shooting of San Bernardino resident James Seay outside the Brass Key bar in Highland.

    A suspect in that shooting, Robert Martinez III, is a San Manuel tribal member. He was never charged in the case because of a lack of witness cooperation, county prosecutors said.

    Seay, who survived the 2004 shooting and sued Martinez, was chased into his mother's backyard in May 2006 and shot to death by two unidentified assailants. It occurred about two weeks after he received a settlement check of about $250,000 from Martinez.

    Barajas-Nunez, 25, pleaded guilty in April to attempted murder with a gang enhancement, transportation of a controlled substance for sale and possession of drugs in jail. She faces one year of jail time, which will likely be served as house arrest.

    Erik Barajas, 35, pleaded guilty in April to assault with a deadly weapon with a gang enhancement and faces 180 days of jail time, also likely to be served at home.

    The two tribal members will be sentenced Nov. 6.

    The Hernandezes will receive credit for the time they have already served at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga since their arrest. Salvador Hernandez will serve about seven years in prison. His brother Alfred will serve about 6<MD+,%30,%55,%70>1/<MD-,%0,%55,%70>2 years.

    Attorneys for the brothers said the sentences were fair. The siblings could have each faced 25 years to life in prison if they had gone to trial and were convicted.

    "We went from life to six and seven years. That's one heck of a trade-off," said James Taylor, Alfred Hernandez's attorney.

    Salvador Hernandez's attorney, Catherine Fox, added, "It's always a risk putting a defendant before a jury, so I think it's a favorable turnout."

    Prosecutor Douglas Poston said he is satisfied with the terms of the plea agreement, which lines Salvador Hernandez up as a third striker.

    "It essentially puts him on notice that if he commits one more felony in the state of California, he's looking at 25 years to life," Poston said.

    The target of the murder conspiracy, a reported gang member with a history of criminal offenses, set the murder conspiracy in motion in spring 2006 when he and fellow gang members confronted Erik Barajas at the Brass Key and accosted him, accusing Barajas' brother of being an informant, according to a probation report released Friday.

    As a peace offering, Barajas gave each man $2,500. That angered Stacy Barajas-Nunez, who confronted the victim the following day and demanded he return the money. She threatened to have him killed by "La Eme" if he didn't, the report said.

    La Eme, Spanish for the letter "m," is a common reference for the Mexican Mafia.

    According to the probation report, Stacy Barajas-Nunez initiated the murder plot. Her brother provided a yearbook photo of the victim to Salvador Hernandez and provided Hernandez with financial perks, including concert tickets for San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino.

    Because Salvador Hernandez refused to be interviewed, Probation Officer Jeremy Smith couldn't make a definitive conclusion as to why the feared gang member, who has a criminal record dating back 20 years, did what he did.

    But he noted it was "doubtless that the gang members see the Barajases as a source of funding for them, in that Stacy and Erik Barajas receive the monthly casino generated payment to tribe members, which has been reported to be in excess of $100,000."
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