Crackdown on Harbor-area gangs reveals ties to Mexican Mafia

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - DEC. 7, 2021. A building in the Wilmington neighborhood where three people were shot on Moday, Dec. 6, 2021, features a mural of gang members fighting and making peace. A 13-year-old boy was killed in the shooting, and two other people were injured, including a nine-year-old girl. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Authorities arrested seven people Wednesday on federal drug and gun trafficking charges in an investigation of two Harbor-area gangs' ties to imprisoned members of the Mexican Mafia.

Wilmington is claimed by two Latino gangs, Westside and Eastside Wilmas, whose members consider Avalon Boulevard the dividing line between their territories, said Capt. Brent McGuyre of the Los Angeles Police Department's Harbor Division.

"At the street level, they're rival gangs," McGuyre said. But those in the gangs' upper ranks are "all answering to the same people" — the Mexican Mafia.

At a news conference at the LAPD's Harbor station, Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in L.A., acknowledged that the people facing charges were mid- and low-level dealers selling to people on the street, not the traffickers responsible for bringing the drugs into the United States.

"Where the wholesale quantities of the drugs came in, it's anyone's guess," he said.

But above those defendants, people with far more power were pulling the strings, authorities said.

One Westside Wilmas member, Raul Molina, is said by law enforcement officials to have been inducted into Mexican Mafia around 2004. Molina was not charged in the complaints unsealed Wednesday. But an FBI agent's affidavit makes clear that authorities believe the 56-year-old, who has been imprisoned since 1995 for second-degree murder, is directing his old gang's rackets.

In October 2022, an informant used WhatsApp to call Molina, who apparently had access to a cellphone, FBI Special Agent Hannah Monroe wrote in her affidavit. Although it's illegal for an inmate to possess phones, they are easily purchased after being smuggled in by corrupt staff or dropped inside the walls using drones.

A few minutes after asking Molina for a drug supplier, the informant got a WhatsApp message from someone who introduced himself as "Speedy," Monroe wrote. Agents identified Speedy as Daniel Nunez, an inmate on San Quentin's death row.

Nunez, 47, was sentenced to die for murdering a Black couple, Edward Robinson and Renesha Fuller, in what witnesses described as a racially motivated attack. He has been behind bars since 1999.

The informant gave Nunez the WhatsApp number for an undercover law enforcement officer who was posing as a buyer of drugs and guns. Over the next five months, Monroe wrote, Nunez sold the officer methamphetamine, fentanyl and guns, negotiating prices and arranging delivery through associates on the street.

Outside a Food4Less in Torrance, a Big Lots in Lomita, a taco shop in South Gate and a doughnut shop in Paramount, drugs, guns and money changed hands — all arranged by a condemned inmate with a cellphone, according to Monroe.

Molina at one point made a video call to the informant who introduced Nunez to the undercover officer and asked whether Nunez was “able to make it happen for you guys," Monroe wrote. The informant said he had, and thanked Molina for putting them in touch. Molina said Nunez was “the homie that makes it happen” and “puts everything out there.”

Molina and Nunez were not charged in the case.

"They're already doing life and it's so much more complicated logistically to prosecute those guys," Mrozek said. By naming the men in the charging documents, law enforcement was signaling they know of the inmates' crimes even if they were not being prosecuted, he said.

Patricia Limon, 53, of Lomita, was charged with filling several of the drug and gun orders the undercover officer placed with Nunez.

After Nunez agreed to sell the officer 5,000 fentanyl pills for $5,000, Limon told the officer to pick up the drugs in a Gardena shopping plaza from a "gringo" called "Chip," Monroe wrote.

Lake Davis Pasley, whom Monroe described as an "associate of a white supremacist gang," is charged with delivering a bag of pills totaling 225 grams of fentanyl. He has yet to enter a plea.

Limon is charged with delivering more drugs and guns in subsequent deals arranged by Nunez. She has yet to enter a plea.

After Cristobal "Stalker" Aguilar delivered guns to an informant at Nunez's direction, the LAPD and FBI got a warrant to search Aguilar's home in South Los Angeles. In a shed behind the house, they found 16.4 kilograms of meth, 2.5 kilograms of fentanyl, 1.7 kilograms of cocaine, a rifle and two handguns, Monroe wrote.

Aguilar, who has since been imprisoned on unrelated state charges, is charged with distributing a controlled substance and has yet to enter a plea.

In another case unsealed Wednesday, Bud John Phineas, who Monroe said is a high-ranking Eastside Wilmas member called "Ghost," was charged with delivering five pounds of methamphetamine in a deal orchestrated from prison.

In October 2022, the same informant who contacted Molina sent a message to Gabriel Huerta, a reputed member of both Eastside Wilmas and the Mexican Mafia called "Sleepy," Monroe wrote.

Huerta, 64, has been serving a sentence of 17 years to life since 1984 for shotgunning a man who had underpayed by $4 a woman whom Huerta was pimping in Wilmington, according to transcripts of his parole hearings.

At a hearing in 2017, Huerta said he'd pulled away from gangs two decades earlier and was trying to set an example for younger inmates by participating in self-help groups. "I've created new values for myself," he said.

According to Monroe, the informant introduced the undercover officer to Huerta as a drug customer. “What exactly does he want??" Huerta asked. "Black? White? Or what??”

After some discussion of prices for methamphetamine, Huerta told the informant he would “have the homie get at him,” Monroe wrote. Ten minutes later, the informant got a call from someone who introduced himself as "Borracho," Spanish for drunk.

Agents identified Borracho as Carlos Guadalupe Reyes, an inmate at Centinela State Prison serving 54 years to life for murdering his estranged wife in Carson in 2008.

After Reyes agreed on a price — five pounds of methamphetamine for $6,500 — Phineas delivered the drugs the next day, Monroe wrote.

Reyes and Huerta were not charged in the case.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.