It appeared on Sept. 29 that Peter Ojeda, a longtime Southern California Mexican Mafia boss, finally conceded his guilt on federal racketeer influenced and corrupt organization (RICO) charges that have been pending for nearly half a decade.
That's the day Ojeda scribbled his signature on a "package deal" plea agreement that was contingent on U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors finalizing similar, pre-trial punishment reduction deals with his remaining three co-defendants--Suzie Rodriguez, Donald Aguilar and Jacobo Huanosto--by Oct. 5.
But on Sept. 30 the spry, legendary 72-year-old gangster abruptly reneged on the arrangement when asked to orally confirm his RICO guilt by U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna.
Craig Wilke, Ojeda's veteran Fullerton-based criminal defense lawyer, declined to comment about his client's flip-flop and indicated he is again preparing for an Oct. 29 trial launch inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana.
A jury pool had already been selected, juror questionnaires distributed and heighten security measures by U.S. marshals plotted in anticipation for proceedings expected to last five to six weeks.
Ojeda--a.k.a. "The Big Homie"--faces potentially 30 years or more of additional incarceration if found guilty of running an underworld enterprise that used murder, kidnapping, robbery, extortion, assaults as well as weapons and narcotics trafficking to bolster its finances.
The seemingly scrapped plea deal would have likely shaved about 12 years off that punishment and saved the government valuable resources that will be expended for a lengthy trial.
Law enforcement officers arrested Ojeda in 2011 during Operation Black Flag, a highly publicized, multi-agency undertaking that rounded up 99 suspects following grand jury indictments and prompted officials to (questionably) assert they'd severely handicapped the Mexican Mafia that continues to operate profitably.
At the time, Ojeda--a Santa Ana native who began building his rap sheet in 1965--was already in custody on 2005 charges and in the midst of a lethal power struggle with a fellow mobster, Armando Moreno.
In the intervening years, federal prosecutors Joseph McNally and Rob Keenan have secured guilty pleas from dozens of La Eme soldiers and junior bosses, many of whom are serving decade-plus prison stints.
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Cops didn't break the case alone. They had insider help. Incredibly devious snitches within the Mexican Mafia--including Fernando Perez and Oscar Moriel--betrayed their colleagues in exchange for cash and sentencing reductions, and are now in the federal witness protection program.