Three East Los Angeles men plead guilty to federal civil rights and racketeering charges for participating in the 2014 firebombing of African-American residences inside the Ramona Gardens Housing Development, according to officials.
The order to firebomb the residences came from the Mexican Mafia, according to a gang member.
On the night of May 11, 2014, eight members of the Big Hazard street gang, which claims Ramona Gardens as its territory, assembled, prepared Molotov cocktails, drove outside of Ramona Gardens, then reentered the housing development on foot to avoid its security cameras.
Once the gang members located their pre-selected targets, they smashed the windows of four apartments and threw lit Molotov cocktails into the residences, according to the plea agreements.
Three of the four targeted apartments were occupied by African-American families, including women and children, who were sleeping at the time of the unprovoked attack.
In plea agreements filed today in United States District Court, the three defendants – Jose Saucedo, aka “Lil’ Moe,” 24, Edwin Felix, aka “Boogie,” 26, and Jonathan Portillo, aka “Pelon,” 23, all members of the Big Hazard street gang – admitted that they targeted the apartments because of the occupants’ race and color, and with the intent to force the victims to move away from the federally funded housing complex in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles.
“It was a miracle that no one was injured in these racially motivated attacks,” said U.S. Attorney Nicola T. Hanna. “These defendants have admitted their goal was to drive African Americans out of this housing facility. This simply will not be tolerated, and we will take any and all steps necessary to protect the civil rights of every person who lives in the United States.”
“The innocent victims of this cold-blooded attack were targeted based on the color of their skin,” said Paul D. Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
“The defendants’ racially motivated and unprovoked attack on families sleeping peacefully in their homes caused fear and destruction,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute violent acts of hate.”
All three defendants have agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to violate the civil rights of the African-American families, specifically the constitutional right to live in a residence free from “injury, intimidation, and interference based on race.”
The three defendants have also agreed to plead guilty to using force – a dangerous weapon, namely, explosives and fire – to injure, intimidate and interfere with the African-American residents because of their race and because they were living in the Ramona Gardens Housing Development.
They also plead guilty to committing a violent crime in aid of racketeering on behalf of the Hazard gang.
In addition, Portillo plead guilty to a charge of using fire to commit another federal felony. Saucedo and Felix plead guilty to a charge of attempted malicious damage of federal property through the use of fire.
Once they enter their guilty pleas, all three defendants will face potential sentences of over 30 years in federal prison.
Three other members of the Big Hazard gang who were charged in this case – Francisco Farias, aka “Bones,” 27, Joel Matthew Monarrez, aka “Gallo,” 23; and Jose Zamora, aka “Fresco,” 28 – previously pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes and related offenses.
These defendants are pending sentencing.
The final two defendants charged in this case, Carlos Hernandez, aka “Rider,” 33, and Josue Garibay, aka “Malo,” 24, are scheduled for trial before United States District Judge Christina A. Snyder on July 31.
According to an indictment unsealed in the summer of 2016, Hernandez instructed the other defendants to meet at a location in Hazard gang territory on Mother’s Day in 2014, to prepare for the attack.
At the meeting, Hernandez allegedly distributed materials to be used during the firebombing, including disguises, gloves and other materials.
Hernandez explained that the order for the racially motivated attack had come from the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that controls the majority of Hispanic gangs in Southern California.
Furthermore, according to the indictment, Hernandez instructed the other defendants to break the victims’ windows, allowing the Molotov cocktails to make a clean entry, ignite the firebombs, and throw them into the victims’ residences in order to maximize damage.
One of the victims, a mother sleeping on her couch with her infant child in her arms, narrowly missed being struck by one of the defendants’ firebombs.
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