The head of the Orange County branch of the Mexican Mafia was convicted Wednesday of racketeering and criminal conspiracy to commit murder and assault with serious bodily injury—counts that could keep the 73-year-old in prison the rest of his life.
Federal prison is where Peter "The Big Homie" Ojeda had been living already, serving a 14-year term for racketeering that would have ended this year or next if he had stayed out of trouble behind bars, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe McNally.
But Ojeda continued to run the Mexican Mafia from within the prison walls, using his girlfriend Suzie Rodriguez as a "secretary" to communicate with gang members out of custody, according to McNally, who added, "She became a facilitator, and that's how the Mexican Mafia operates."
She's now managed to facilitate herself into conviction on the same charges as Ojeda, and she also could get life on May 9. Rodriguez had been out of custody, but U.S. District Judge James Selna ordered her jailed after the verdicts were read from a jury that had deliberated about 2 1/2 days.
As R. Scott Moxley previously reported, Ojeda was set to sign a plea deal on Sept. 29 but abruptly backed out. That move torpedoed the plea deals of Rodriguez and two other defendants, setting the stage for new trials.
"Big Homie" ran an underworld enterprise that used murder, kidnapping, robbery, extortion, assaults as well as weapons and narcotics trafficking to bolster its finances. A Santa Ana native who began building his rap sheet in 1965, he'd been in custody five years for his latest crime by 2011, when law enforcement officers arrested him during Operation Black Flag, a highly publicized, multi-agency undertaking that rounded up 99 suspects following grand jury indictments.
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In the intervening years, McNally and fellow federal prosecutor Rob Keenan have secured guilty pleas from dozens of La Eme soldiers and junior bosses, many of whom are serving decade-plus prison stints. Helping the cases were snitches within the Mexican Mafia who betrayed their colleagues in exchange for cash and sentencing reductions. Some are now in the federal witness protection program.
Heavy security accompanied the trial of Ojeda and Rodriguez, and the identities of jurors were kept secret.
Rodriguez's attorney, Karren Kenney, characterized her client as a person who has trouble saying no and wants to help others. The attorney said she has a "laundry list of issues" she'll raise on appeal.
Ojeda's attorney, Craig Wilke, argued that his client was just a poor old man in prison who couldn't have possibly run a criminal conspiracy from behind bars. Wilke claimed other gang members use Ojeda's name as a "shield" or a "sword" to suit their purposes.