SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Four members of the Nuestra Familia prison gang were sentenced Wednesday to lengthy terms in state prison for their roles in a racketeering conspiracy that involved several murders, drug trafficking and firearms offenses, prosecutors said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the gang members who were sentenced in U.S. District Court in Oakland were 60-year-old Andrew Cervantes of Stockton, who it said is the gang’s top leader and is known as “Mad Dog,” 52-year-old Henry Cervantes, of Lodi, who’s known as “Happy,” 48-year-old Alberto Larez of Salinas, who’s known as “Bird,” and 33-year-old Jaime Cervantes of San Mateo, who’s known as “Hennessy.”
Today’s hearing concluded a six-year investigation that was conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office with the help of local agencies including the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, the Oakland Police Department, the San Jose Police Department, the Livermore Police Department and the Alameda County sheriff’s office.
Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers sentenced Andrew Cervantes to 36 years, Henry Cervantes to 75 years, Larez to life in prison plus 10 years and Jaime Cervantes to 32 years.
Two of the murder charges stemmed from the deaths of John Gilbert Navaerette, 73, and 56-year-old Renee Washington, whose bodies were found when firefighters responded to a blaze at a two-story building in the 3100 block of Coolidge Avenue in Oakland at about 1 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2011.
Navaerette and Washington were found inside a residential unit on the second floor. Their bodies were so disfigured that authorities initially were unable to identify them.
An autopsy later revealed that Navaerette and Washington suffered multiple stab wounds and authorities said they believed the fire was set to cover up the crime.
Navaerette was a heroin addict who had been convicted of second-degree murder in Alameda County Superior Court on May 22, 1981, for fatally shooting Neil Wesley in the vicinity of 23rd Avenue and East 12th Street in Oakland to support his heroin habit, according to court records.
Prosecutors said another of the group’s crimes occurred in August 2012, when Larez and two other gang members traveled to San Jose, lured another gang member who was suspected of cooperating with law enforcement to a “meeting” where he was shot to death while he was sitting in his vehicle.
Prosecutors said all four gang members were convicted of racketeering conspiracy and other offenses during a three-month trial that concluded in August.
In addition, Larez was convicted of murder in aid of racketeering, use of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, and use of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence causing death. Jaime Cervantes and Larez were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering and conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering.
Henry Cervantes and Jaime Cervantes were also convicted of using fire to commit a felony, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice, and Henry and Andrew Cervantes and Larez were convicted of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors said the evidence in the case indicates that Nuestra Familia is a prison gang that originally formed in the California state prison system in the 1960s. Nuestra Familia leaders control and direct the gang’s criminal activities both inside and outside the prison system, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said the evidence also demonstrated that the four defendants were members or associates of the federal branch of the Nuestra Familia, which was controlled by two principal overseers incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
They alleged that Andrew Cervantes was one of those “overseers” of the gang while serving a 210-month sentence in federal prison and that Larez and Henry Cervantes were senior gang members who reported to him.
Federal prosecutors said that from the fall of 2010 through March 2013, members and associates of Nuestra Familia engaged in the trafficking of methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin and committed robberies to raise money for themselves and the gang.
Eight co-defendants in the case previously pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other offenses, according to prosecutors.
U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch said in a statement, “Today’s sentences have a special significance in light of the court’s findings that three of the defendants were among the highest-ranked members of the organization internationally.”
Stretch said, “The sentences reflect the egregious conduct of the defendants who lured and intimidated younger members of the community into being the next generation of gang members ready to accept a life of crime, drugs, and violence.”
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