The majority of the 19 people who were arrested in connection with pleaded not guilty to federal charges today.
Of the 15 defendants who made their first appearance in U.S. District Court in this case today before Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero, 13 pleaded not guilty to charges ranging from obstruction of justice, murder in aid of racketeering and racketeering. Two others, Richard Martinez, 25, and Andrew Bryant, 29, deferred pleas until their attorneys could appear with them.
Four additional defendants, Benjamin Campos-Gonzalez, 21, Rodrigo Aguayo, 23, Gregorio Guzman, 38, and Peter Davis, 26, are in state custody and will be transferred to federal custody next week to face charges.
Campos-Gonzalez, as well as Joseph Ortiz, 22, Justin Whipple, 19, of San Bruno and Victor Flores, 20, have been charged with racketeering murder and .
Five family members facing charges
Friday’s hearing was largely procedural as Judge Spero appointed attorneys for the defendants, accepted pleas and scheduled bail hearings. But some details did emerge about the government’s case and the relationship between the defendants.
The defendants include five family members who are all charged in aspects of the crime: Joseph Ortiz, of South San Francisco, his brother, Michael Ortiz, Jr., 25, his father, Michael Ortiz, Sr., 48, his mother, Tanya Rodriguez, 45, and his aunt, Betty Ortiz, 49, all of San Bruno.
The indictment accuses Joseph Ortiz of being one of the shooters, and federal prosecutors have charged him with three counts of racketeering murder, which carries a minimum sentence of life in prison and a maximum sentence of death for each count.
Ortiz has also been charged with racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering and obstruction. Ortiz has additionally been charged with four counts of attempted murder in aid of racketeering and a firearms offense relating to a Dec. 18, 2010 shooting in Daly City.
In a separate trial that starts Monday, Ortiz is facing charges of armed robbery and use of a firearm related to the April 5, 2010, robbery of jewelry store Joyeria Deira at 349 Grand Avenue.
Defendants contest bail
His father and brother, Michael Ortiz, Sr., and Michael Ortiz, Jr., have been charged with conspiracy and being an accessories after the South San Francisco shooting.
When Judge Spero asked Ortiz, Sr., if he understood the charges against him, he replied, “I don’t because this is a mistake. I didn’t do nothing.”
Ortiz’s mother, Tanya Rodriguez, has been charged with being an accessory after the shooting. When her lawyer asked Assistant U.S. Attorney W.S. Wilson Leung to explain why the government objected to bail in her case, Leung said the government has wiretap evidence of a scheme to help her son, Joseph Ortiz, flee the country. She assisted her son’s flight to Mexico, helped others wire him money and Ortiz smuggled her to Mexico as well, Leung said.
Michael Ortiz, Sr.’s lawyer argued that as Joseph Ortiz’s case has been going on over the past two months, his parents have made every court appearance and thus aren’t flight risks. Their bail hearings were scheduled for next week.
Ortiz’s aunt, Betty Ortiz, has been charged with being an accessory after the shooting. Her lawyer said she has leukemia and needs medication daily.
Federal prosecutors’ argument rests on the allegation that all defendants were members or associates of the and carried out the shooting as part of a racketeering enterprise that included other criminal activity, including “narcotics trafficking, extortion, robbery, and murder,” according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s office. Michael Ortiz, Sr. is an alleged founding member of the C Street gang.
Friday’s hearing was held in a secure courtroom where entrance and exit was regulated. Family members of victim Gonzalo Avalos came to the hearing, as well as relatives of the defendants. Several cried and shook their heads as Judge Spero read the charges and potential sentences.
After the hearing concluded, one woman moved closer to the defendants and said to a loved one, “I love you with all my heart.”
The next court hearing will take place on June 22 before Judge Susan Illston.