LOS ANGELES 

A close associate of a Whittier street gang has been sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for committing a series of drug-related and violent acts, including the attempted murder of a Whittier Police officer during a narcotics transaction, officials announced Friday.

            U.S.District Judge Virginia A. Phillips sentenced Frankie Vasquez, 40, of Carson.

Vasquez pleaded guilty on June 24 to conspiring to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), committing a violent crime in aid of racketeering (VICAR), conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, and carrying a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and drug trafficking.

            The charges against Vasquez are contained in an indictment that charges him and 50 other members and associates of the Canta Ranas organization, a wide-ranging criminal enterprise which operates primarily in Santa Fe Springs and Whittier under the control of a member of the Mexican Mafia.

Vasquez is a member of the Carson-based Varrio Keystone street gang, but he admitted to being a key supplier of narcotics to the Canta Ranas organization, according to authorities.

The racketeering indictment, which was unsealed in June 2016 and superseded in October 2017 to add additional charges, alleges that an incarcerated member of the Mexican Mafia prison gang exerted control over the Canta Ranas street gang and other gangs, and that he received compensation in the form of “rent” or “taxes” generated by drug trafficking and other offenses committed in gang territory.

When law enforcement authorities arrested Vasquez in this case in May 2018, they found in his possession a copy of the indictment, with certain sections highlighted.

In a plea agreement filed in federal court, Vasquez admitted being associated with the Canta Ranas Organization, which attempted to control its claimed territory by conspiring and actually committing “acts of violence, including assaults, murders, extortion, and acts of intimidation; engaging in narcotics trafficking, extortion, and robberies; and ‘taxing’ narcotics sales and other profitable illegal activity occurring within the territory.”

In addition to participating in the organization’s drug-trafficking business, Vasquez admitted he attempted to murder the undercover police officer, who Vasquez thought was trying to rob him during a drug deal.

In fact, the undercover detective was conducting surveillance as part of a narcotics investigation.

Most of the defendants named in the federal RICO indictment have been convicted, either by guilty plea or trial.

The lead defendant in the case, Jose Loza, was found guilty in August on a host of charges, including murder. Loza is facing a life prison term when he is sentenced on February 24.

            The investigation into the Canta Ranas organization was called Operation “Frog Legs” and resulted in the seizure of narcotics and 51 firearms Operation Frog Legs was conducted by the Southern California Drug Task Force, which is led by the Drug Enforcement Administration as part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) initiative.

DOJ NOTED:

Participants on the Task Force include personnel from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Whittier Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, IRS Criminal Investigation and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Office of Correctional Safety, Special Service Unit.

The RICO case resulting from Operation Frog Legs is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Carol Alexis Chen, Chief of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering, & Racketeering Section (INMLR); Kathy Yu of the INMLR Section; and Victoria A. Degtyareva of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section.

By Raul

Raul Hernandez is a former journalist. He has worked as a newspaper reporter for more than 30 years at the El Paso Herald-Post, El Paso Times, Press Enterprise in Riverside, California and the Ventura County Star in California. He was a court reporter for more than 20 years.