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Home / Neighborhood / Los Angeles / Prison gang member and associates charged with murdering inmate in DTLA

Prison gang member and associates charged with murdering inmate in DTLA

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A federal grand jury Thursday returned a superseding indictment charging three Pomona-area gang members and prison gang associates with murdering an inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles.

The expanded indictment alleges Jose Valencia “Swifty” Gonzalez, 39, Carlos “Popeye” Gonzalez, 38, and Juan “Squeaks” Sanchez, 28, all of Pomona, killed the victim on June 28 last year at the direction of prison gang member Michael “Big Mike” Lerma, 65, also of Pomona, who is also charged with the murder.

The murder by means of “lethal force” was ordered in retaliation for the inmate’s failure to pay off a drug debt to the prison gang, according to the indictment, which identifies the victim by the initials S.B.

The defendants previously were charged with conspiring to violate racketeering laws related to the prison gang’s control of drug sales in Pomona and surrounding areas, and included a separate conspiracy to murder, a kidnapping and a carjacking, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The superseding indictment alleges Lerma exercised control over, and extorted drug proceeds from, Latino street gangs in and around Pomona, as well as from inmates at Calipatria State Prison in Imperial County. Members of Lerma’s criminal enterprise also engaged in robberies, identity theft and fraud, drug trafficking, kidnapping and other acts of violence, the indictment alleges.

The in-custody murder was committed while the defendants were in federal custody awaiting trial scheduled for next April 12 in Los Angeles federal court. In addition to the murder charges, the superseding indictment describes the enterprise’s takeover of MDC and seizing control of the drug trafficking within the facility.

If convicted, the defendants would each face up to life in federal prison or death. Prosecutors said they will decide in the future whether to seek the death penalty.

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