SAN JOSE -- The FBI says it has struck a crushing blow to a violent Sureño street gang operating near downtown San Jose thanks to a multiyear operation capped by the arrests of two significant players early Wednesday, adding to the nearly two dozen suspects already in custody.

The two gang members arrested Wednesday were arraigned in federal court later in the day for several counts covering crimes involving methamphetamine dealing, racketeering, weapons, and conspiracy to commit murder. An indictment involving them and other members had been sealed until now to avoid tipping them off, the FBI said.

But local gang interventionists say that while the arrests are laudable, law enforcement needs to be wary about other gang members in the city's Washington neighborhood moving in to fill the power vacuum that has just been created.

The FBI's Santa Clara County Violent Gang Task Force, an assembly of officers from more than 10 South Bay police agencies, descended on South First and Oak streets near Washington Elementary School around 6 a.m. to arrest Mario Cardenas, 20, and 23-year-old Rafael Mariscal Cambreros, both of San Jose.

Cardenas and Cambreros were the last pieces of an investigation that yielded 27 defendants and the effective ruin of the Sur Santos Pride gang, a Sureño subset, said FBI spokesman Peter Lee.


Advertisement

"The gang is done," Lee said. "Getting SSP off the street is huge."

Not so fast, say city leaders tasked with community-based solutions to San Jose's prominent gang problems.

"It's a little pre-emptive to say that the gang is done," said Mario Maciel, superintendent of the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force. "I have no doubt that they put a serious dent into the structure. But there's a big number of guys who are still out there. Everyone's going to vie for position now."

Maciel added that it would be dangerous to declare too much progress and give policymakers the impression that anti-gang programs might not be as needed in the Washington area.

"There's a lot of work to do. It continues to be a hot spot," he said. "Anytime you take out the head, it's a great first step, and the help is appreciated. But there are 30 or 40 guys out there hearing the words 'done' and 'dismantled' and saying, 'Oh really?' "

"It's been a crippling. But they're not dismantled. They have contingency plans for this."

Lee said the operation, which was sparked by gang detectives in the San Jose Police Department, was fueled in part by an initiative to combat violent crime in the South Bay spearheaded by David Johnson, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Francisco Bay Area division.

The task force began arresting gang members in the area starting Jan. 30. The other defendants identified by federal authorities so far are: Jesse Aguilar, aka "Munchies," 31; Jesus Manuel Armendariz, aka "Chumel," 22; Rafael Mariscal Camberos, aka "Bad Boy," 23; Benito Canales, aka "Dopey," 32; Mario Cardenas, aka "Trusty," 20; Jorge Cisneros, aka "Sleepy," 28; Juan Chavez, aka "Dukester," 29; Felix Hernandez Cristobal, aka "Pato," 22; Daniel Cortes, aka "Little Temper," 21; Fernando Cruz, aka "Nano," 23; Oscar Martinez De La Cruz, aka "Cuete," 27; Francisco Fonseca, aka "Griffo," 28; Mario Guerrero, aka "Li'l Junior," 22; Marcos Salvador Lomeli, aka "Cookie," 23; Andy Lamb Lopez, aka "Solo," 36; Roberto Jaime Martinez, aka "Espantos," 32; Miguel Miranda, aka "Payaso," 27; Alfredo Moldonado, aka "Junior," 35; Ricardo Montoya, aka "Necio," 23; Jose Angel Moreno, aka "Li'l Chocolate," 30; Jorge Luis Olivera, aka "Chivo," 20; Jesse Parra, aka "Little Looney," 31; Jorge Rodriguez, aka "Brownie," 24; Jose David Sanchez, aka "Joker," 32; Denis Sandoval, aka "Criminal," 26; Miguel Vasquez, aka "Tweety," 29; and Gilberto Villela, aka "Snowman," 32.

Two of the defendants, including Martinez, are charged with a murder related to racketeering that was committed Oct. 23, 2011, when a 22-year-old San Jose man was stabbed to death. Martinez and Cruz are also accused of using deadly weapons in the assault of two men believed to be in a rival gang on Nov. 4, 2011.

Others face similar counts to Cardenas and Cambreros, highlighted by alleged methamphetamine dealing and weapons offenses and also assault, robbery, obstruction of justice and tampering with witnesses. The indictment also details meetings among gang members discussing the need to tax local pimps and businesses, send in regular tax installments to prison gang leaders, with meetings often ending with a new member being "jumped in."

Crimes listed in the indictment go back nearly 5 years, starting April 9, 2009, when Montoya and others are believed to have stabbed and attempted to kill a victim believed to be a Norteño. Other listed attempted homicides were directed at members of their own gang, including one incarcerated at the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas.

.

Staff writer Eric Kurhi contributed to this report. Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.