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Reputed Mexican Mafia leader charged in extortion scheme

Ralph 'Perico' Rocha, who prosecutors say had tried to muscle in on a rival mafia leader's narcotics territory in Norwalk and La Puente, has pleaded not guilty.

November 28, 2009|By Richard Winton

A reputed Mexican Mafia leader who prosecutors said once tried to seize control of drug sales in Norwalk and the San Gabriel Valley has been charged with orchestrating a large-scale extortion scheme, according to authorities.

Ralph "Perico" Rocha, 42, was ordered held in lieu of $4-million bail at the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles. Rocha was arrested without incident Nov. 19 as he was about to leave his Moreno Valley home, said Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore. Rocha is awaiting a court appearance Dec. 9 on two counts of extortion. He has pleaded not guilty.

Authorities offered few details on the nature of the extortion scheme, except to say that the charges stemmed from a larger investigation into organized crime. Investigators served two search warrants on properties connected to Rocha before his arrest, Whitmore said.

Two years ago, Rocha made headlines when rivals in the Mexican Mafia were charged with trying to have him killed in retaliation for his failed attempt to take over area narcotics sales, according to prosecutors.

Rocha was paroled from federal prison in 2007 after serving time on a federal racketeering conviction. Shortly after his release, Rocha tried to muscle in on a rival mafia leader's narcotics territory in La Puente and Norwalk, according to gang prosecutors.

Rocha's actions prompted the wife of rival Jacques "Jocko" Padilla, an imprisoned reputed mafia leader, to allegedly arrange the killing of Rocha and cohort Raphael "Cisco" Gonzalez. But sheriff's investigators learned of the scheme, thwarted it and made arrests.

Despite the arrests, however, Rocha was shot shortly afterward. He suffered only minor injuries.

Authorities say the plot to kill Rocha is the result of a growing division in the Mexican Mafia -- between those members serving time in state prison and those in federal prison.

That split began in the mid-1990s, when federal prosecutors began attacking the Mexican Mafia's street operations with racketeering prosecutions that sent many leaders to federal prison.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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