The 35-count felony indictments unsealed Tuesday name 25 adults and two juveniles accused of conspiring to commit a variety of felonies ranging from extortion to robbery, assault and drug offenses over a five-month period ending this month. Twenty of the defendants were in custody and six were on the lam.
"These are hardcore criminal gang members. They wake up every day and try to decide where they are going to commit crimes that day and victimize the people of this county," Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said.
The operations were allegedly run from prisons by the leaders of the Mexican Mafia, or "La M," one of the most vicious gangs in the country.
According to Dean, one of the shot callers is Marvin "Evil" Madrigal, who is already in prison for unspecified charges. Madrigal allegedly runs heroin sales from behind bars.
The sheriff said one of Madrigal's lieutenants is Edwin "Sporty" Mora, who is also in prison. Dean said Mora allegedly ordered two killings in Moorpark.
"We became aware of two shootings, hits that were going to occur, and our investigators were there on scene to stop it from happening and take the guns away from the suspect," Dean said.
Officials said the investigation known as "Operation Wicked Hand" started with the killings in Moorpark. Since the launch of the operation, 57 people have been arrested, Dean said.
During the arrests, authorities seized heroin, methamphetamines and cocaine as well as 32 weapons, including assault rifles.
"At its core, this case involved an organized crime conspiracy directed by the Mexican Mafia to extort and tax Ventura County drug dealers and gangs," said Gregory Totten, the Ventura County district attorney.
Dean said the operation will have short-term effect on crime in the county. Suspects arrested will likely be replaced quickly and the Mexican Mafia will remain in positions of power in the state's prisons.