By Paul Anderson
Four “foot soldiers” of the Mexican Mafia attacked a fellow inmate at the Theo Lacy jail in 2009 as part of a Mexican Mafia power struggle over control of Orange County, a prosecutor told jurors today.
Defense attorneys representing Jose Aguirre Camarillo, 29, Bernardo Guardado, 22, and Fernando Gallegos, 29, contended that the defendants were merely involved in a simple jail brawl on June 28, 2009.
Another co-defendant, Mark Garcia, 37, is expected to testify that the four were carrying out an order to attack someone involved in an attempt to unseat alleged Mexican Mafia leader Peter Ojeda, who authorities say is still calling the shots from a federal prison.
The four defendants were charged as part of Operation Black Flag, an effort by federal and state authorities to crack down on the Mexican Mafia.
Operation Black Flag resulted in charges against about 100 people in July 2011.
The four are the first to go to trial in state court.
Deputy District Attorney Erik Petersen walked jurors through a history of the Mexican Mafia, including its origin in 1957 in the Deuel Vocational Institution.
“This case is bigger than these three defendants,” Petersen said. “This case cannot be decided in a vacuum.”
The prosecutor argued that gang leaders regulate drug sales and other crime in and out of custody because long ago they realized that landing behind bars was an “occupational hazard.”
Gang leaders smuggle in notes, or “kites,” into jails, sometimes even in the rectums of inmates, that instruct gang members to attack those who have run afoul of the gang’s rules, Petersen said.
The notes are written in code, with Mexican Mafia street gang members having to learn the ancient Mayan language to decipher them, Petersen said.
Some of those notes instruct inmates to carry out the execution, or “hard candy,” of a cellmate, Petersen said. The slang comes from the use of a homemade knife, or “shank.”
In the June 28, 2009, incident, the inmates were given the “green light” to dole out “hard candy” to a gang member in custody nicknamed “Sluggo,” according to Petersen.
The defendants were confused and weren’t sure whether the man who gave them the order meant “Big Sluggo” or “Little Sluggo,” according to Petersen, and since one of the “kites” was intercepted by jail guards, the men beat up the wrong inmate, he said.
Armando “Pirate” Macias was the gang leader who allegedly gave the orders to kill Donald “Sluggo” Aguilar, the right-hand man of Armando “Mando” Moreno, who was trying to seize control of the Orange County organization from Ojeda, Petersen alleged.
Macias is on death row for his part in the 2002 kidnap-murder-for-hire of businessman David Montemayor in Buena Park.
Since they weren’t sure which Sluggo was the target, the four decided to do a “black and blue,” or non-lethal attack on Sergio “Little Sluggo” Castillo, Petersen said.
“It really didn’t matter because he was from F-Troop and backed Peter Ojeda,” Petersen said.
F-Troop is one of the gangs controlled by the Mexican Mafia.
The four defendants are charged with one count of attempted murder, two counts of conspiracy, and a count of assault with a deadly weapon likely to produce great bodily injury, all felonies. They also face sentencing enhancements for gang activity and attempted premeditated murder.
Attorney Gilbert Carreon, who represents Guardado, said, “What I believe the evidence will prove is there was a fight at Orange County jail and that’s all it’s going to prove.”
Carreon said the prosecution is “embellishing” what happened.
Attorney Laurence Young, who represents Camarillo, said his client had no choice because he feared retaliation if he didn’t do as instructed.
“You go along or bad things happen,” Young said.
The defendants never intended to kill their victim, Young said.
Attorney Roger Sheaks, who represents Gallegos, said, “It’s a conspiracy to commit assault,” not murder.
The Mexican Mafia is “perfectly capable” of killing someone in or out of custody, Sheaks said.
The defense attorney said his client acted “under duress.”
“You’re in a place where you cannot be protected,” Sheaks said. “You obey, or you will pay.”
Petersen said the defendants all had a choice to seek protective custody from the authorities in exchange for helping investigators, as Garcia has done.
“You might say they had no choice, but that’s not the case,” Petersen said. “They could have raised their hands and said, ‘I’ve had enough of the politics.’ ”
Ojeda and Donald Aguilar are scheduled to go on trial in June in federal court.
A status hearing on the case was scheduled for April 12.