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3 More Sentenced to Life in Mexican Mafia Case

Courts: Like other gang members, defendants show no remorse when terms are imposed.


Three members of the Mexican Mafia, including a reputed godfather of the violent prison gang, were sentenced Wednesday to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole after a federal jury convicted them earlier this year of racketeering and conspiracy charges.

A fourth defendant, 27-year-old Juan "China Boy" Arias, received a 32-year sentence in federal prison, partly because of his young age, the judge said. But even in view of the lighter sentence, Arias may be in his 60s before he is considered for parole, federal officials said.

The four reacted much the same way two others did Tuesday when U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew sentenced them to life in prison. They expressed no remorse for their actions and said nothing in their defense. And for the most part, they grinned and blew kisses to relatives during the proceedings.

After Ruben "Nite Owl" Castro, 36, calmly strode from the courtroom after receiving a sentence of life without parole, his attorney, Robert Ramsey, remarked: "He took his sentence a lot better than I would have."

The four were among 13 defendants targeted by federal prosecutors in a push to combat the prison gang's attempt to spread its influence to L.A. street gangs. Using the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations act, prosecutors accused them of seven murders, extortions, drug trafficking and attempts to kill 25 others.

A Mexican Mafia member turned informant, Ernest "Chuco" Castro, 39, provided key testimony against the defendants and allowed investigators to secretly videotape hotel meetings in which Mexican Mafia activities were discussed.

In May, a jury convicted 12 of the defendants and acquitted the 13th.

On Wednesday, Benjamin "Topo" Peters, 57, a reputed godfather of the crime syndicate, had no reaction when he was sentenced to life in prison. Wearing aviator sunglasses, he smiled and blew kisses to his fiancee, Sally Soto, in the audience.

Peters showed no disappointment when the judge rejected his request to marry him and Soto. Lew denied a similar request Tuesday, explaining that he has vowed never to conduct another marriage after presiding over one 13 years ago.

Considered a godfather within the group because of his years in it, Peters is already serving a life sentence for murder. He was at Pelican Bay State Prison, the state's toughest penal institution, when the federal indictment against the Mexican Mafia was returned in 1995. "If he ever gets out of state prison, he'll go directly to federal prison to do life," a federal prisons official said.

After sentencing, Peters called out, "I love you all," to his fiancee, his daughter Adrianna and another relative in the courtroom audience.

"I love you, too, Daddy," the 24-year-old daughter replied.

The third defendant to be sentenced Wednesday to life without the possibility of parole, Raymond "Huero Shy" Shryock, smiled at his wife as the judge passed judgment on him.

In the case of Arias, he must serve the reminder of a 13-year sentence in state prison on attempted murder and another charge before he can begin serving the 32-year federal sentence.

"It is still a long time," the judge admitted to Arias, "but you have the hope of getting out."

Four more defendants in the case are scheduled to be sentenced today.

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