The Case of the "Good Person" Cocaine Gangster: Meet Santa Ana's Sal Vera

The Case of the "Good Person" Cocaine Gangster: Meet Santa Ana's Sal Vera

This week, Salvador Reyes Vera hoped he'd receive a 20-year federal prison sentence for operating a massive cocaine and heroin distributorship because, as his taxpayer-funded defense lawyer argued, that was long enough to teach the high-ranking Santa Ana gangster a lesson about obeying the law.

In fact, lawyer Jack D. Early presented Vera as a bumbling, Minnie Street Lopers drug kingpin who was never violent, took crap from bitchy customers, delivered drugs himself, gave generous discounts and stored drugs in "holes in the ground and inside rotting logs."

Sure enough, there is evidence that Sal "Magic" Vera wasn't always a genius.

Consider this portion of a telephone conversation secretly recorded by the Santa Ana Gang Task Force (which includes Santa Ana Police Department officers as well as FBI and ATF agents):

Sal: Hello?

Fellow gangster: Hey.

What's up?

What's going on, fool?

What's going on, fool? Who's calling?

What are you doing?

Oh, here at the party, fool.

Hey, fool.

What's going on?

The guys from East Side came to my pad, fool.

Not exactly John Steinbeck dialogue, huh?

Anyho, Assistant United States Attorney Terri K. Flynn wasn't delighted that Vera's Bishop Manor-based operation used 14 and 15-year-old boys as drug couriers to supply the narcotics to customers throughout Orange County and also at Irvine CVS and Trader Joe's stores.

An Orange County jury wasn't impressed with Vera either. It found him guilty of distributing more than 100 grams of heroin, more than 500 grams of cocaine and more than 280 grams of crack cocaine. 

Vera wanted the statutory minimum punishment of 20 years, but Flynn pushed for a 30-year prison term and a 10-year probation period after his release from custody.

On June 27, U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna sided with Flynn.

Vera, 32, has not yet been shipped to a federal prison. He remains in custody at the Santa Ana Jail and has already filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit. He can take comfort that his 13-year-old daughter told Selna, "My dad will always be my hero" and his sister, Maricela, described him as "a good person . . . outgoing with a great personality."

According to court documents, others involved in Vera's drug operation were arrested, convicted and punished: Javier Camacho (120 months in prison), Jose Goicochea-Chavez (70 months), Ruben Guerrero-Orejel (46 months), Gloria Calderon (51 months), Manuel Duarte-Aguilera (37 months), Jesus Higareda (30 months), Julio Ahumada (30 months), Elmer Duarte (14 months), Edgar Mondragon (37 months) and Fillip Chabotrov (5 months).

The gangsters used nicknames like MeMe, Shorty, Mando, Primo, Chiquis, Crow, Yogi, Bugsy and Little Clown.

Vera's younger brother, Armando Reyes Vera, remains in custody but his case hasn't been resolved.

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