LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A Latino gang member faces sentencing in October for orchestrating the firebombings of homes of black residents in the Boyle Heights area five years ago in an effort to drive them out of the defendant's turf.
Carlos "Rider" Hernandez, 34, pleaded guilty Monday to five felonies that together carry a sentence of 15 years to a possible life term in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder set an Oct. 7 sentencing date.
In the early morning hours of May 12, 2014, eight members of an East Los Angeles street gang, which claims Ramona Gardens as its territory, prepared Molotov cocktails, smashed the windows of four apartments and threw the lit firebombs into the units.
Three of the four targeted apartments were occupied by black families, including women and children, who were sleeping at the time of the unprovoked attacks.
"I don't want to be around this. I don't want to have my daughter around this at all... so I'm going to move on," said Lynette McDaniel, who had lived in the apartment complex for only 90 days before the attack.
Prosecutors said the gang members – who have all pleaded guilty – violated the civil rights of the families, specifically the constitutional right to live in a home free from "injury, intimidation and interference based on race."
Hernandez, the scheme's ringleader, ordered his co-defendants to meet at a location in gang territory on May 11, 2014 – Mother's Day – to prepare for the night's attack. At the meeting, Hernandez distributed materials to be used during the firebombing, including disguises, gloves and other materials, according to his plea agreement.
Hernandez explained that the order for the racially motivated attack had come from the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that controls the majority of Hispanic gangs in Southern California.
The indictment states that Hernandez told the others to break the victims' windows, allowing the Molotov cocktails to make a clean entry, ignite the firebombs and throw them inside in order to maximize damage. One of the victims, a mother sleeping on her couch with her infant child in her arms, narrowly missed being struck by one of the weapons.
"Hernandez told the other co-defendants who were present that the African-American victims were being targeted for firebombing because of their race," according to his plea agreement, in which Hernandez admitted that he "and the co-defendants knew that throwing firebombs into occupied residences after midnight created a substantial likelihood of causing serious bodily injury."
"This defendant oversaw a scheme designed to send African-American residents a potentially deadly message – you are not welcome here," said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna of the Central District of California. "As this successful prosecution clearly demonstrates, we simply will not tolerate acts of violence and hate calculated to deprive people of their civil rights."
Hernandez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate civil rights, violent crime in aid of racketeering, using fire and carrying explosives to commit another federal felony, using and possessing a firearm in a crime of violence, and violating the Fair Housing Act.
The seven other defendants who were charged in 2016 previously pleaded guilty to federal hate crime and related offenses and are scheduled to be sentenced later this year. All of those defendants also admitted that they participated in the firebombings because of the victims' race and color and with the intent to force the victims to move away from the federally funded housing complex.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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