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FBI names 17 alleged Costa Mesa gang members in indictment

Multiagency, three-year operation seized guns and accuses alleged gang members of supplying drugs.

July 13, 2011|By Lauren Williams, lauren.williams@latimes.com
  • A Santa Ana SWAT officer keeps watch over a weapons cache during a press conference at the Santa Ana Police Department to announce a multi-year operation called "Black Flag" where over 99 members and associates of the Mexican Mafia and affiliated gangs were arrested.
A Santa Ana SWAT officer keeps watch over a weapons cache… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

SANTA ANA — Wednesday's countywide gang sweep — a three-year effort dubbed Operation Black Flag — began with a lead in Costa Mesa, law enforcement officials said.

Following the initial tip, the investigative trail led Santa Ana police investigators to Cesar "Roach" Munguia, 31. The high-ranking member of Forming Kaos, a Costa Mesa street gang, is accused of dealing guns, methamphetamines, cocaine and heroin, said Costa Mesa Police Capt. Les Gogerty.

Costa Mesa was "basically where it started," Gogerty said.

After Santa Ana police contacted their Costa Mesa colleagues about Munguia, the multilevel investigation involving local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies "just blossomed like crazy," Gogerty said.

According to the indictment, Munguia most recently lived in Huntington Beach. He faces federal charges, including racketeering and conspiracy to distribute narcotics.

On Wednesday, the FBI announced charges against 99 members of various criminal street gangs affiliated with the Mexican Mafia. The announcement came after 500 law enforcement officers fanned out across Orange County, searched various locations and arrested 26 suspects on federal charges.

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Four Costa Mesa locations were targeted in the sweep — three on the Westside and one east of Newport Boulevard — said interim Police Chief Dennis Kies.

Arrests were made at three of the locations. One Costa Mesa resident is now considered a fugitive.

Seventeen alleged Forming Kaos members were among the 57 named as defendants in the federal indictments.

The Orange County district attorney's office charged 26 people who were arrested for their alleged participation in gang-related jailhouse conspiracies; they wanted to commit murders and aggravated assaults against seven inmates in the O.C. Jail, authorities said.

Seven SWAT teams were sent out with the arresting agencies early Wednesday "due to the propensity of violence" that law enforcement agencies expected from suspected gang members, authorities said at a news conference at the Santa Ana Police Department.

"Gang members need to wise up, face up, or face these very serious consequences," André Birotte Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, told reporters. "No gang member is untouchable. No gang is out of reach."

Operation Black Flag began in fall 2008. A multitude of agencies were involved in the operation: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the FBI; O.C. Sheriff's Department; O.C. District Attorney's office; and the Santa Ana and Costa Mesa police departments.

At the news conference, authorities displayed 45 weapons seized as part of Operation Black Flag. Seven of them were seized earlier Wednesday.

A floor-to-ceiling outline of the county's Mexican Mafia on one of the walls contained details on the communication lines between the mafia's branches. Large photos of some of the gang members and two of their victims, who were attacked in retaliation for talking to the media, were on nearby chairs.

On the victims were gashes: one across a victim's face and another across a victim's back. Police said the injuries were retaliatory measures for providing interviews to MSNBC's "Lockup" program. Eight were charged with attacks against other prisoners for giving the interviews.

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