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6 Arrested in O.C. in Idaho Slaying

Three are older brothers of Lake Forest women playing basketball at Washington university. Stabbing victim was a suspected drug dealer.

March 29, 2003|Jennifer Mena | Times staff writer

Six men, including three brothers in a well-known Lake Forest basketball family, were being held in Orange County Jail on Friday in connection with the slaying of a suspected Idaho drug dealer in November, authorities said.

The men were being held without bail on fugitive warrants accusing them of involvement in the killing of a 20-year-old man whose stabbed body was found near a campsite outside Hayden Lake, Idaho.

Among the arrested are Eddie Mendiola, 33, Giovanni Mendiola, 32, and Pierro Mendiola, 31, older brothers of basketball standouts Giuliana and Gioconda Mendiola of Lake Forest, who are on the University of Washington's women's basketball team -- where Giuliana's play this year earned her top honors as 2003 Pac-10 player of the year.

The men were arrested Tuesday based on a March 21 indictment that remains sealed. It accuses Giovanni Mendiola of first-degree murder, robbery, two counts of kidnapping and five counts of criminal conspiracy in the death of Brendan Butler, Orange County Jail officials said. His bail was set at $1 million. The other Orange County men were arrested on suspicion of robbery, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder.

Eddie Mendiola was also being held on a probation violation, jail officials said.

Idaho authorities were seeking the men's extradition.

Because the indictment is sealed, few details of the men's alleged involvement in the killing were available. But authorities said they were suspected of being involved in a drug-smuggling ring that extended from California to Canada.

The victim's body was discovered by a woodcutter about a month after his family reported him missing in mid-October. In December, investigators found his car abandoned in Seattle.

Police quickly suspected Butler was involved with -- and killed by -- a drug ring. Though they declined to identify the drugs involved, they said the ring could include as many as 15 people. Authorities in Idaho said more arrests were possible.

The Mendiola brothers are part of a large family well-known in Orange County high school circles for their raucous support of their sisters' teams. At one point, El Toro High School created a fans code of conduct to rein in the family.

Gioconda Mendiola graduated in 1999, a year before her sister, and sat out a year of college waiting for Giuliana to graduate so they could enter the University of Washington together. While waiting, she worked at the family's restaurant in Costa Mesa.

When Giuliana graduated in 2000, she was named the Los Angeles Times player of the year in Orange County. Her No. 13 jersey was later retired. Giuliana was one of the most prolific scorers in Orange County history. Her 3,039 points was an Orange County record and the fourth-best in California at the time.

Details about the suspects were not immediately available, but jail records said Pierro Mendiola works as a quality-control manager, Eddie is a writer and Giovanni works in graphics.

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Times staff writer Martin Henderson contributed to this report.

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