SAN FRANCISCO — Twenty-six suspected Sureño members and associates have been charged with serious crimes, including murder, according to Bay Area officials who Tuesday announced the arrests after a years-long law enforcement operation targeting the Southern California-based gang that has earned a reputation for violent reprisals against informants and rivals.
Known as Operation Boulevard Blues, the FBI and Concord police-led operation brought four Contra Costa homicide investigations to a close and resulted in 11 suspected Sureños facing murder and gang charges in state court. Authorities served 34 search warrants across the Bay Area in recent weeks and seized 42 guns, according to prosecutors.
The four homicides occurred in 2014-15 but were just recently solved, police said. Three were in Concord, one occurred in Antioch.
The victims include Luis Estrada, a 16-year-old boy who in November 2015 was taken to a Concord park, ambushed, and shot in the head by someone he thought was a friend, according to the criminal complaint. Police say the conspiracy to kill Estrada included his own cousin, who is accused of luring Estrada into danger that night.
Another man, 21-year-old Victor Gutierrez, was shot and killed in April 2014 by a Sureño who was out looking for rival Norteño members to shoot and used a pistol with a laser sight to gun him down, according to authorities.
Additionally, 15 suspects were brought up on federal charges, including 12 defendants charged with distributing large amounts of heroin and meth out of Concord. Another two are charged with dealing firearms without a license and another man was charged with gun possession.
The federal charges centered on an area of Concord along Monument Boulevard — also referred to. as "The Bully" — which has been known as a Sureño hotspot for decades.
At a Tuesday news conference, U.S. Attorney Dave Anderson said the gang had taken a shopping center on Monument and turned it into "one stop shop for guns and drugs," without trying to hide it, a fact Anderson said authorities found "particularly appalling."
"The defendants peddled their drugs in broad daylight, in public places," Anderson said.
The drug charges are based on a series of controlled purchases done by a federal confidential informant in Concord and Pleasant Hill, according to the criminal complaint. Several pounds of meth were seized, according to court records.
Anderson, appointed by U.S. Attorney William Barr in 2019, claimed the charges "explode the myth of the non-violent drug dealer."
"Drugs are expensive. Drugs are dangerous. Where we find drugs, we almost always find guns," he said.
Though it originated in Los Angeles, the Sureño has subsets all over the Bay Area, including Concord, Antioch, Brentwood, North Richmond, and Vallejo, authorities said. The gang associates with the Mexican Mafia in California prisons, uses the color blue to distinguish itself, and claims the number 13 as a symbol.
The gang has a major presence in Concord, with subsets known as the South Side Locos, Aztec Kings, Murder Mob /Murder Meadows, Brown Crowd Locos (which also has members in Vallejo), Brown Pride Locos, and the Beach Flats Sureños, which originated in Santa Cruz, according to the criminal complaint.
The SSL subset has existed in Concord for a quarter-century, according to the criminal complaint. Three of the four charged homicides were allegedly motivated by gang rivalry.
"Monument Boulevard is safer today," Concord Police Chief Mark Bustillos said at the news conference. "These are guns that would be used in criminal street acts. We were able to solve four cold-case homicides. It's really important that we bring closure to those victims' families after years of not having anyone arrested."
Series of gang-related killings
Though police informants are never viewed favorably in any gang's culture, the Sureños in the Bay Area are known for being particularly ruthless when it comes to targeting so-called "snitches." Since 2012, authorities in Contra Costa have investigated numerous violent crimes, including several murders, where the victim was either a police informant or related to one.
Estrada's killing was among them, police say. Before the killing, Sureño members allegedly passed court paperwork around showing Estrada had cooperated with police on a case that sent two Sureños to jail.
Estrada associated with Sureños growing up, police said, but in the weeks before his death he'd drawn the ire of some SSL members. It started when he began dating a girl who associated with Norteños and posted a picture on social media of them, while she gripped a red rag, a Norteño symbol, authorities wrote in court records.
On Nov. 30, 2015, Estrada's cousin, 25-year-old Andrew Cervantes, allegedly asked Estrada to join him and others as they went around Concord looking for rival Norteños to shoot, the criminal complaint alleges. When they got to Hillcrest Park in Concord, Michael Valdez, 24, allegedly murdered Estrada, shooting him in the head at short range.
Valdez, Cervantes, and a third man, Daniel Rodriguez, 29, allegedly then drove to Benicia, getting rid of evidence along the way.
Two weeks before Estrada's death, in Antioch, Valdez allegedly shot and killed 18-year-old Marcos Villazon near Sycamore Drive. The charging records do not list a suspected motive, but police said at the time that Villazon's killer had issued a gang taunt before opening fire.
Six people — Antonio Gonzalez, 26, Aurelio Mendez, 24, Jose Ochoa, 24, Marcos Ochoa, 26, Jose Cisneros-Naranjo Jr., and Luis Cruz, are charged with conspiring to kill 20-year-old Erick Cruz, who was shot and killed outside of Pine Meadows apartments in September 2015.
The charging documents allege the defendants killed Erick Cruz over a dispute involving a .357 pistol in Cruz's possession. The charging records do not name the suspected shooter, but say that Cruz was shot in the back while meeting with all six defendants, with a gun owned by Jose Ochoa.
Two people, Rafael A. Lopez, 31, and Juan Barocio Jr., 27, are charged with murdering Gutierrez. The records allege that Barocio drove a van to and from the scene of the crime, and that Lopez opened fire at Gutierrez after spotting him walking by. The two were driving around 1600 block of Adelaide Street looking for rivals to shoot, the complaint alleges.
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