State Attorney General Jerry Brown on Thursday announced the last of a series of successful prosecutions against a Mexican Mafia cell that worked in Imperial and San Diego counties.
Imperial County resident Patrick Ralph Ponce, 44, pleaded guilty this week to drug, weapon, kidnapping and extortion charges, Brown's office states. He's described as the leader of a cell that was apparently a key piece of the "Eme's" underworld reign in Southern California.
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Ponce was the last of 31 gang members convicted under the A.G. office's "Operation Gangland" effort, which started in 2005. The 31 have collectively been sentenced to more than 200 years behind bars, the office states.
"This Mexican Mafia cell was one of the most violent extortion and drug trafficking rings California's border region has ever seen," Brown said. "With the convictions of all 31 gang members, we've dealt a fatal blow to their criminal enterprise and they will spend a long, long time in prison."
Authorities said they captured phone conversations, via wiretaps, in which Ponce plied his trade, including ordering violent attacks, moving drugs and setting extortion prices. Brown's office states that the man trafficked heroin and methamphetamine.
The Eme cell collected "taxes" on drug sales and immigrant smuggling in El Centro, Calexico, Brawley, Heber, Holtville, Calipatria, and Niland.