HomeA famous Mexican mafia member accused of ordering the murder in a Los Angeles prison

A famous Mexican mafia member accused of ordering the murder in a Los Angeles prison

Federal prosecutors on Thursday charged a prominent member of the Mexican mafia with ordering the murder of an inmate in a federal detention center in Los Angeles and three accomplices of the prison-based organization.

Michael “Big Mike” Lerma, 65, was already under indictment at the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles, accused of overseeing racketeering drug dealers in his hometown of Pomona, when he ordered three of his henchmen to kill an inmate who had not paid drug debts, According to the new indictment published Thursday. The inmate was found stabbed and hanged to death in his cell in June 2020.

The indictment, which expands on an earlier one filed three years ago, describes a system under which the Mexican mafia “taxes,” or cut profits, from drug dealers and other criminals by harnessing the loyalty of Latin gang members on California’s streets and inside its prisons.

The Mexican Mafia consists of about 140 men handpicked from the top Latin street gangs of Southern California. Law enforcement says that members of the Mexican mafia – nearly all of whom are imprisoned – when they join the organization, retain control of their original gangs, tax their rackets and direct their members to commit extortion, assaults and murder.

Lerma, whose lawyer has not commented on the new indictment, was twice convicted of murder, according to parole transcripts seen by The Times. He joined the Pomona 12th Street gang at the age of twelve, dropped out after the eleventh grade and joined the Marines, but was fired after committing murder at the age of 18. to the Marine Corps,” he told the parole board.

While serving a five-year term, Lerma admitted that “for lack of a better phrase, I learned how to think and be judged.” He was released in 1979, after hearing from other colleagues about “selling and trafficking drugs, making money, speed, and easy money,” he told the board, “and that’s what I decided to do.”

In 1982, Lerma shot and killed a Sacramento County man who robbed heroin and a power tool. He has since been serving a 15-year life sentence for premeditated murder.

Prison officials classified Lerma as a member of the Mexican Mafia in 1995, but disputed that characterization, telling the Parole Board, “I have always denied being a member of any prison gang or involved in any prison gang.”

However, the new indictment describes Lerma as a “full” member of the Mexican mafia that, since at least 2012, has taxed drug dealers in Pomona and surrounding neighborhoods for fear of assault or death. The indictment says that within the walls of the Calipatria State Penitentiary in Imperial County and the Capital Detention Center in Los Angeles, Lerma imposed a “one-third” tax on all drugs smuggled and sold within the facilities.

When an inmate buys drugs or other contraband inside the prison, the money is usually exchanged outside the prison, between representatives of both the seller and the buyer. The seller will owe tax on the sale to the Mexican mafia member who controls the prison in which he lives. He will usually send the tax payments to the partner of the Mexican mafia member out of prison.

The indictment in the Lerma case says that a Pomona woman, Cheryl Perez-Castaneda, collected taxes from sales of Calipatria Prison and directed them to Lerma through his guest credit account and Green Dot prepaid cards. Pérez Castaneda pleaded guilty to the racketeering plot and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Lerma was first indicted in federal court in 2018. Lerma, who was brought from the state prison to the Federal Capital Detention Center, or MDC, took control of the facility and put in place a discipline system, prosecutors said, with offenses punished, according to To its seriousness, verbally. Warnings, hitting, stabbing, ‘smashing’ – a very severe assault the inmate must be moved to a different unit – and murder. As soon as a member of the Mexican Mafia puts the “green light” on a certain inmate, the “Sureños” – members of Latin gangs loyal to the Mexican Mafia – are obligated to attack or kill him as soon as they see him.

The indictment says that Yerma’s primary MDC executors were three known members of the Pomona gang: Carlos “Popeye” Gonzalez, Jose “Swifty” Valencia Gonzalez and Juan “Squeux” Sanchez. The indictment states that on June 28, 2020, the three men entered the cell of an inmate who had not paid a drug debt and killed him on the orders of Lerma.

Sanchez’s lawyer said he had not yet seen the indictment and declined to comment. Lawyers for Gonzalez and Valencia Gonzalez did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The indictment identifies the victim only by his initials – SB – but investigators’ records indicate the death of an inmate, Steve Bencome, from stab wounds and strangulation with a ligature on June 29, 2020.

Bencome, 39, was sentenced five months ago to 10 years in prison for trafficking in methamphetamine, a crime he committed while serving a 37-year sentence for burglary at the Centinela State Penitentiary in Imperial County, according to a government sentencing memo. Bencome used a prohibited cell phone to sell and distribute drugs behind bars.

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