The Nuestra Familia prison gang was dealt a big blow on Wednesday when its top leader and three lower ranking bosses were sentenced to considerable time in prison for racketeering, murders, robberies, drug offenses, and related violence.
Following a three-month trial and subsequent guilty verdict, 60-year-old Nuestra Familia leader Andrew “Mad Dog” Cervantes, of Stockton, California, was sentenced to 36 years in prison; 52-year-old Henry “Happy” Cervantes, of Lodi, California, was sentenced to 75 years in prison; 48-year-old Alberto “Bird” Larez, of Salinas, California, was sentenced to life plus ten years in prison; 33-year-old Jaime “Hennessy” Cervantes, of San Mateo, California, was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
The Nuestra Familia is a prison gang that originally formed in the California state prison system in the 1960s. Its leaders control and direct the group’s criminal activities both inside and outside of the prison system.
Andrew Cervantes was the top-ranking leader, or so-called ‘overseer’, of the Nuestra Familia. He led the criminal organization from a federal prison in Pennsylvania, using complex coded letters and telephone calls to communicate to his underlings. Using these methods, he orchestrated and oversaw regiment commanders who generated money through drug sales and other crimes, like robbery. The money was then sent up the chain to high ranking members in prison.
According to evidence introduced at trial, Andrew Cervantes used coded letters to order his fellow gang members to kill a fellow Nuestra Familia gang member for failing to uphold the rules of the organization. A video tape was played at trial showing the man being stabbed 13 times in a cafeteria in a federal prison in Louisiana, shortly after the coded letters were written.
But Cervantes’ power was not contained inside prison walls, his influence reached far and wide on the outside. Using Henry Cervantes and Alberto Larez as his two highest ranking ‘street commanders’ in charge of the Nuestra Familia’s Bay Area “Street Regiment,” Cervantes was able to order violence on the outside with relative ease.
In September, 2011, Henry Cervantes stabbed two people to death in an apartment in Oakland. He then ordered two of his underlings to destroy the crime scene by pouring gasoline over the bodies and lighting them on fire.
Alberto Larez orchestrated the murder of a rival in San Jose. According to the evidence at trial, Larez and two of his underlings traveled to San Jose, lured the rival to their location with phone calls, and then executed him with point-blank shots to the face and neck.
Under the supervision of Henry Cervantes and Larez, members and associates of Nuestra Familia engaged in the trafficking of methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin and committed robberies to raise money for themselves and the gang.
Jaime Cervantes was recruited by Larez to join the gang in 2010. Promises of quick riches no doubt were made. In the span of just over one year, Jaime Cervantes participated in three armed robberies on behalf of the gang, and stabbed a rival at the direction of his “carnal” Larez.
At the direction of Andrew Cervantes, Larez instructed his subordinates to send proceeds from their criminal activities to the commissary accounts of gang leaders incarcerated in several prison facilities, including the account of Andrew Cervantes. Larez communicated with Andrew Cervantes primarily through prison phone calls and correspondence using coded language.
Wednesday’s sentencing marks the culmination of a six-year investigation and prosecution of the Nuestra Familia, which resulted in the convictions of twelve members and associates of the gang. Eight co-defendants previously pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other offenses and were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from eight to fifteen years.
After Wednesday’s sentencing, U.S. Attorney Brian J. Stretch told the press that, “Four additional members of the Nuestra Familia gang were sentenced for the heinous crimes they perpetrated upon our community. […] [These] sentences have a special significance in light of the court’s findings that three of the defendants were among the highest ranked members of the organization internationally. The sentences reflect the egregious conduct of the defendants who lured and intimidated younger members of the community into being the next generation of gang members ready to accept a life of crime, drugs, and violence.”
“Criminal enterprises like the Nuestra Familia may spawn in prisons, but they often spread into our communities and onto our streets, bringing violence and mayhem with them,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “We will continue to target these criminal organizations, dismantle their leadership, and return the violent offenders to prison.”
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