Mexican Mafia defendant prompted prison gang to move to the streets
Peter "Sana" Ojeda, the reputed Mexican Mafia godfather of Orange County, who was arrested last week, helped pioneer the gang's transformation over a generation by showing it the way out of the prisons and onto the streets, authorities say.
The system of using street gang members to extort "taxes" from drug dealers, which Ojeda allegedly introduced, has been implanted throughout Southern California and is now being exported to Northern California and other states, authorities say.
"These guys are branching out," said Leo Duarte, a state Department of Corrections expert on the Mexican Mafia.
Those who say they know the 63-year-old Ojeda describe his demeanor as simple, humble, respectful and polite. He is said to be a handyman, repairing properties for his father-in-law.
He lives on an unassuming working-class street in La Habra, lined with beige stucco homes, one of which he shares with his young son and his wife, Rosemary, who declined a request for an interview.
The property is lined with a white wrought-iron fence and has fruit trees, a small basketball court and neatly trimmed grass.
Ojeda was arrested Wednesday and charged with federal racketeering. He was among 36 people charged that day with felonies, including drug trafficking and murder, after a two-year investigation that officials hope will crush the Mexican Mafia in the county.
Authorities believe Ojeda, who could face life in prison, controlled the drug trade of Latino street gangs in Orange County by using violence and coercion to keep them in line, while forcing them to pay the Mexican Mafia a percentage of their profits. Through Santa Ana city jailers, Ojeda declined a Times request for an interview.
Ojeda has been a member of the Mexican Mafia since the 1960s, officials believe. And before his arrest, he was one of the most respected mafiosos still on the street, authorities say.
Ojeda did not invent drug dealer taxing; the Mexican Mafia had been taxing inmates in California prison yards since the 1960s, said Duarte.
"A lot of them study the culture of Aztec history and [also] get the ideas from the Italian mafia," said Duarte. The Aztecs taxed surrounding communities, and the Italian mafia extorted protection money from merchants.
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