SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Opening statements in the trial for the alleged leader of the Orange County Mexican Mafia began on Friday.
Peter Ojeda, who also goes by the nickname "The Big Homie," faces charges of racketeering among other gang violence related charges.
"Orange County is Peter Ojeda's county," Joseph McNally, the assistant U.S. attorney, said. "This is a territory he's controlled for more than 30 years."
Prosecutors said the 73-year-old convict used his power to direct drug trafficking and to demand cash from gangs. In return, officials said gang members could exert influence over their neighborhoods and seek protection from the Mexican Mafia.
Ojeda, who is already in prison on a 2005 racketeering charged, faced more charges after a raid in 2011 known as "Operation Black Flag," which looked to deliver a staggering blow to the Mexican Mafia.
Nearly 100 alleged gang members were arrested during the raid, while heroin, guns and thousands of dollars in cash were seized.
Though he's been in prison, prosecutors said Ojeda has maintained control over the Mexican Mafia, giving orders from behind bars to a gang that kills, extorts and protects drug dealers.
Authorities allege Suzie Rodriguez, who became Ojeda's girlfriend, helped him carry out his activities while he's been incarcerated.
Rodriguez was arrested during the 2011 raid.
"She agreed to be his eyes, ears, and mouthpiece," McNally said.
The attorney for Rodriguez said she was in love with Ojeda, but is not involved in any of the crimes she's accused of.
Ojeda's attorney said he is not involved in the crimes he's charged with, and that gang members are using his name for their own illegal activities.
"His name itself has value. Gang members use it," Craig Wilke, Ojeda's attorney said. "They use it to extort... others use it as protection."
Prosecutors allege Ojeda conspired to murder Mexican Mafia member Armando "Mando" Moreno and those loyal to him. Officials said Moreno was in a power struggle with Ojeda.
The Mexican Mafia is considered to be the oldest and most powerful prison gang in the U.S.
Prosecutors said joining the Mexican Mafia is a lifetime membership unless a member violates the gangs rules, in which case, discipline could include death.
Racketeering trial for alleged leader of Orange County Mexican Mafia begins
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