LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Dozens of people were snared Wednesday in a multi-agency dragnet targeted at a jail drug trafficking scheme controlled by the Mexican mafia.
Multiple warrants were served as part of Operation Dirty Thirds, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said. "Dirty thirds" was in reference to the third of jail drugs or profits that had to be paid to the mafia by non-members.
Authorities held a news conference at the U.S. Attorney's Office in downtown Los Angeles to announce the arrests.
"These cases have delivered a major blow to the Mexican Mafia and leaders of many of the street gangs under the control of the organization," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said. "By taking out the gang members who control the jails, and by disrupting their communications network, we undermined the Mexican Mafia's ability to coordinate street gang activity."
The indictments said the gang enriched itself through drug sales, collecting taxes on drugs and even collecting a share of purchases from the jail commissary. It was able to exert control by threatening and carrying out violence if people didn't pay up or follow the rules.
The gang members were accused of committing vicious beatings, stabbings, kidnappings and murders, Hanna said.
"Drug trafficking and extortion of our inmates by the Mexican Mafia can be a daily occurrence," Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said.
The FBI, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the DEA and the U.S. Marshals joined forces to serve search warrants throughout Southern California, many of which took place in Pomona.
More than 500 personnel from various law enforcement agencies executed the takedown, taking into custody 32 defendants charged in two federal racketeering indictments that name 83 defendants, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Captured in the sweep was the alleged ringleader of the criminal organization Jose Landa-Rodriguez. He has been described by gang experts as the most powerful and influential inmate in L.A. County Jail.
"Landa-Rodriguez controlled all the drug trafficking in the jails," said Hanna.
Landa-Rodriguez's attorney Gabriel Zendejas Chavez, who the indictment claims assisted in the illicit operation, was also arrested at his Ontario home.
The indictment also alleges Landa-Rodriguez, 55, ordered at least three murders outside the jail and had members arrested on purpose, in order so that could smuggle drugs into the jail.
A total of 35 defendants are already in custody in state prison or county jail facilities and authorities continue to search for 16 fugitive, federal prosecutors said.
They all face charges of drug smuggling and extortion, while one member of the mafia that was in jail custody will also be charged with three counts of murder.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Wire services contributed to this report.)
for more features.