General Crime

* 15 Alleged Gang Members Arrested in Raids Plead Not Guilty

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Fifteen of 19 defendants in a federal indictment charging gang-related crimes were arraigned today in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on racketeering, conspiracy, murder and other charges, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. Thirteen of them entered not guilty pleas and two others delayed entering pleas until their attorneys are available, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Jack Gillund said.

A total of 19 members of the Nortenos-affiliated 500 Block and C Street gangs were named in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in San Francisco on April 24.  The 15 defendants who appeared before Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero were detained and many have detention hearings next week, Gillund said. The next U.S. District Court date is June 22, he said. Thirteen alleged Norteno members of Bay Area street gangs were arrested early Thursday morning in a multi-agency operation conducted at 11 locations, including South San Francisco and Petaluma.

Four suspects — Joseph Ortiz, 22, of South San Francisco; Victor Flores, 20, of Petaluma; Justin Whipple, 19, of San Bruno; and Benjamin Campos-Gonzalez, 21, of San Mateo — are suspected of fatally shooting three men they believed to be rival gang members in South San Francisco in 2010.  On Dec. 22, 2010, Omar Cortez, 18, Gonzalo Avalos, 19, and Hector Flores, 20, all of South San Francisco, were fatally shot in a drive-by shooting at the intersection of Eighth Lane and Linden Avenue. Three other males between 15 and 20 years old were wounded but survived.

All four of those suspects will be eligible for the death penalty if convicted, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said. Sixteen of the 19 defendants named in the indictment have been charged with racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, and other charges.

Three special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were shot during a raid in Petaluma on Thursday morning in which one member of the 500 Block and C Street gangs — two separate gangs that work together — was taken into custody after trying to escape while shooting at the agents, Haag said. All three agents were hospitalized in Sonoma County but are expected to survive, she said.

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