An investigation into the killing of a man who had confronted graffiti taggers has revealed an unrelated murder plot by Mexican Mafia leaders battling over control of the illegal drug trade in the San Gabriel Valley, authorities said Thursday.
The case provides a rare glimpse of how the prison gang controls Latino gangs on Southern California's streets, and of the role mafia wives and girlfriends play in ordering robberies, extortions and even murders on the outside.
It "peels back the smelly rotten onion that is the Mexican Mafia and shows that when their men are in prison, oftentimes the women run the show," Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said at a news conference on the case.
The case grew out of the killing of Robert Whitehead, 44, who was shot to death in March 2006 after challenging young gang members he caught crossing out another gang's graffiti on a neighbor's garage.
"He was simply defending his neighborhood and paid for his bravery with his life," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina.
Sheriff's deputies said Thursday that they had arrested an alleged La Puente gang member, Anthony Alex Castillo, 20, in Whitehead's slaying. Another reputed gang member, Robert "Pee Wee" Lopez, is being sought; the suspected shooter was killed earlier this year.
As detectives examined the Whitehead case, they "stumbled across" a connection to Maria Delores "Lola" Llantada, 43, said Gary Hearnsberger, chief gang prosecutor for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
Llantada is the girlfriend of Jacques "Jocko" Padilla, a reputed Mexican Mafia member serving a life sentence for murder at Corcoran State Prison.
From his cell, Padilla controls the drug taxation in Azusa and parts of La Puente, "taxing" dealers for operating in areas he claims as his turf, say law enforcement officers and gang members.
Llantada, they allege, runs street operations for Padilla -- allegedly using their daughter, Doreen Padilla, 24, as a go-between during prison visits to her father.
Earlier this year, two reputed Mexican Mafia members, Raphael "Cisco" Gonzalez and Ralph "Perico" Rocha, were paroled from federal prison and tried to muscle in on Llantada's La Puente and Norwalk narcotics territory, prosecutors said.
The case, together with interviews with law enforcement and gang members, paints a picture of the Mexican Mafia as a snake pit. Though calling each other "brothers," members constantly conspire against one another and use young street gang members to do their dirtiest work.
A deep division exists between members in state prison and those in federal custody, Hearnsberger said.
The split began in the mid-1990s, he said, when federal prosecutors began attacking the Mexican Mafia's street operations with racketeering prosecutions that sent many leaders to federal prison.
When convicts who joined the Mexican Mafia in federal prison return to Southern California, they expect to exercise power on streets where state prison members, and their confederates outside, have seized control, he said.
Llantada allegedly sent Doreen Padilla to visit her father in prison to ask for permission to kill Gonzalez, then solicited gang members to kill the two men, the complaint said.
The complaint alleges that Llantada tried to find out where Gonzalez lived and worked, and obtained the two men's photographs. The complaint quotes snippets of what appear to be cellphone conversations, referring to guns as "toys."
Authorities moved in to break up the plot after Llantada last Sunday began spreading the word that the murders had been approved by Padilla, the complaint said.
Llantada, David "Bulldog" Sahagun, 26, Yvonne Colleen Montes, 30, George "Jokes" Bravo, 40, Anthony Palacios, 66, and Angelita Martinez, 37, are charged with conspiracy to commit murder. They face life in prison if convicted. Bravo remains at large. As of Thursday, Jacques Padilla had not been charged.
Eleven more people, including Doreen Padilla, were arrested but have not been charged.
"We are not done with this investigation," Hearnsberger said.
Also taken into custody were 17 children, many of whom were found in homes where heroin and methamphetamine were seized. Fifteen guns were also confiscated.