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LOS ANGELES – Law enforcement authorities this morning arrested 18 defendants named in three federal grand jury indictments stemming from Operation Roman Empire, a 2½-year investigation into South Los Angeles street gangs allegedly controlled by a Mexican Mafia member who directs criminal activities through his daughter.
A 60-count racketeering indictment focuses on the activities of the Harpys street gang, which currently claims territory southwest of downtown Los Angeles and north of the University of Southern California. The Harpys gang, which is also known as the Harpys-Dead End gang, is one of more than a dozen Latino gangs across a wide swath of South Los Angeles allegedly controlled by Mexican Mafia member Danny Roman.
The 29-defendant indictment that alleges violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act does not formally charge Danny Roman, who is serving a sentence of life without parole at Pelican Bay State Prison. The indictment does name Danny Roman’s daughter and his daughter’s husband as defendants, alleging that they are the day-to-day leaders of the Harpys gang and that they control the gang’s activities on behalf of Danny Roman. According to the indictment, Danny Roman gives his daughter and son-in-law orders that direct gang members to engage in criminal conduct, including collecting “taxes” from businesses and gangs that are funneled back to Danny Roman in state prison. As charged in the indictment, the gang enforces the collection of “taxes” through threats of violence, including murder, for any business or gang that fails to pay or reports the collection of taxes to law enforcement.
In addition to outlining Danny Roman’s control of the Harpys and of other gangs in South Los Angeles, the indictment alleges specific criminal acts, including the distribution of methamphetamine, cocaine, crack cocaine and heroin; the murder of a gang member who owed a debt to another gang member; robberies targeting USC students; and conspiracies to commit murder, including a plot to kill a witness in a state court case against a member of another gang.
The indictment also accuses Danny Roman of orchestrating the extortion of vendors at the Alameda Swap Meet, which is outside of Harpys’ territory but within the area controlled by Danny Roman. The Alameda Swap Meet, according to the indictment, has long been a central location for criminal activity by members of the 38th Street gang, who are under the control of Danny Roman and regularly extort vendors at the swap meet.
According to the indictment, Danny Roman’s daughter and her husband receive orders from the imprisoned Mexican Mafia member during trips to Pelican Bay in Northern California. They in turn pass Danny Roman’s orders to the “shot caller” and other high-ranking members of Harpys, who oversee drug sales and violent conduct within both Harpys territory and the broader area controlled by Danny Roman. The Harpys shot caller also controls and enforces the collection of tax payments from the Latino gangs under Danny Roman’s control and issues orders to other gangs regarding drug sales and the use of violence.
The investigation into members of the Harpys gang and the other defendants named in the indictment was conducted by the Los Angeles High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force, which is comprised of officers with the Los Angeles Police Department and agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
During the course of Operation Roman Empire, investigators seized approximately 8½ pounds of methamphetamine, approximately one-half pound of heroin, approximately one pound of cocaine, 23 pounds of marijuana and 22 guns. During this morning’s operation, two more firearms were seized and 10 children were removed from several residences by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services’ Multi-Agency Response Team.
This morning’s takedown led to the arrest of 18 defendants on federal charges contained in the racketeering indictment and two other indictments that each name one defendant. Those taken into custody this morning on federal charges are:
Vianna Roman, 37, of Los Angeles, who is Danny Roman’s daughter;
Manuel Valencia, 36, of Walnut, the alleged shot caller of the Harpys gang;
Aaron Soto, 40, of Los Angeles, Vianna Roman’s husband, who allegedly is one of the gang’s leaders;
Jaime Montano, 32, of Los Angeles, who is linked to the East Side Trece gang and who allegedly led a conspiracy to murder a witness in a trial against another gang member;
Bryan Valencia, 26, of Los Angeles, who allegedly sold drugs and collected “taxes” from gangs under Danny Roman’s control;
Eduardo Ramirez, 22, of Los Angeles, who allegedly supplied firearms and drugs to Harpys members;
Juan Delgado, 32, of Los Angeles, who allegedly collected taxes from gangs;
Carlos Delgado, 20, of Los Angeles, who allegedly assisted in the sale and delivery of methamphetamine;
Jimmy Ramos, 28, of Los Angeles, who allegedly sold methamphetamine and transported large amounts of cash;
Jorge Sanchez, 31, of Los Angeles, who is linked to the Florencia 13 gang and who allegedly sold methamphetamine;
Gwendolyn Etta, 34, of Los Angeles, who allegedly sold methamphetamine with Jorge Sanchez;
Marilyn Eta, 27, of Los Angeles, who allegedly assisted Manuel Bonilla in the sale of drugs and helped Bonilla hide from the police after Bonilla murdered a customer over a drug debt;
Mario Basulto, 27, of Victorville, who allegedly sold drugs and cellular telephones inside a California state prison;
Ronnie Orozco, 37, of Los Angeles, who is linked to the 38th Street gang and who allegedly oversaw the collection of taxes from the Alameda Swap Meet;
Angel Cenea, 22, of Hollywood, who is linked to the La Mirada Locos gang, and who allegedly attempted to smuggle drugs and cellular telephones into a California state prison;
Nancy Buckley, 28, of Los Angeles, who allegedly helped her husband, Iman Buckley, funnel drug proceeds to Danny Roman;
Denise Halawi, 41, of San Bernardino, who allegedly conspired in the sale of methamphetamine; and
Walter Alarcon, 36, of Los Angeles, an Eastside Playboys gang member who is charged by himself in an indictment that accuses him of distributing methamphetamine.
The defendants arrested this morning are expected to be arraigned this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
Eight people charged as part of Operation Roman Empire are already in state custody on other charges. They are:
David Carpinteyro, 32, a leader of the Harpys gang who allegedly collected taxes from gangs and enforced collection of the taxes with threats of violence;
Manuel Bonilla, 25, who allegedly sold large quantities of methamphetamine and crack cocaine, and who faces state court charges of murdering a customer over a drug debt;
Jose Renteria, 33, who is linked to the East Side Trece gang and who allegedly sold heroin inside a California state prison;
Iman Buckley, 30, who also allegedly sold heroin inside a California state prison;
Miguel Delgado, 18, who allegedly committed an armed robbery against three USC students;
Christopher Velasquez, 22, who allegedly sold crack cocaine;
Edgar Gonzalez, 28, who allegedly represented Danny Roman while incarcerated in an Arizona state prison; and
Johnny Barron, 23, who is charged by himself in an indictment that accuses him of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Federal prosecutors will work to have these eight defendants removed to federal court to face the charges in the indictments.
There are five defendants named in the indictment who are either fugitives or have yet to be completely identified by investigators. They are:
Ramon Ramos, 36, of Los Angeles, who allegedly supplied methamphetamine to Manuel Valencia for distribution among Harpys members;
Daniel Palacio, 30, of Los Angeles, who allegedly supplied firearms to Harpys members;
Ricardo Gallegos, 33, who allegedly committed an armed carjacking with other Harpys members;
“Tigre,” who is linked to the 38th Street gang and who allegedly oversaw the collection of taxes from the Alameda Swap Meet; and
“Jimmy,” who allegedly assisted in the sale of methamphetamine.
The main indictment alleges violations of the RICO statute, VICAR (violent crime in aid of racketeering) and various narcotics and weapons offenses. If convicted, all but one of the defendants face a maximum statutory sentences of life in federal prison.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.
Operation Roman Empire was conducted by the HIDTA Task Force, which is comprised of LAPD officers and DEA agents. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation also participated in this investigation.
Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives provided substantial assistance during this morning’s takedown.
The Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, which is a member of the HIDTA Task Force, has filed two property abatement lawsuits for nuisance gang and narcotics activity at two properties at 2154 West 28th Street and 1354-1356 West 25th Street. The City Attorney’s Office will be seeking comprehensive physical and managerial improvements, including possible closure, to remedy the long-standing and rampant gang activity at these properties.
–Source: US Attorney’s Office, Los Angeles
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