A murder in San Juan Capistrano sparked a wider probe that resulted in the arrests of around seven dozen "middle manager" Mexican Mafia gang members in Orange County and the seizure of weapons, drugs and counterfeit currency, officials announced Wednesday.
The gang takedown, dubbed Operation Scarecrow, grew out of the investigation into a fatal shooting that occurred on Christmas morning 2016 in the 25000 block of Avenida Cabrillo. Although that slaying remains unsolved, it led to 85 arrests and the seizure of 36 guns, two of which had been reported stolen, 14 pounds of methamphetamine and three pounds of heroin, along with bogus money, credit card readers and stolen cars, according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes.
Many women arrested were dubbed "secretaries" for carrying information from inmates out to the streets, officials told NBC4.
The name of the operation refers to the street moniker "Crow'' of one of the suspects.
"The intelligence gathered helped us to prevent a number of crimes, including an attempted murder,'' Becerra told reporters.
The murder investigation "branched off'' into the crackdown on the Mexican Mafia, Barnes said.
Investigators executed 37 search warrants in the investigation, resulting in the filing of 31 criminal cases, Barnes said.
Barnes acknowledged the arrests are a "drop in the bucket'' against a criminal enterprise as far-reaching as the Mexican Mafia, but he said it would be "disruptive'' to the gang.
He also said he expected the Christmas Day 2016 murder to be "solved soon.''
Orange County Mexican Mafia boss Peter Ojeda was sentenced to federal prison two years ago for continuing to run his gang from behind bars, but Barnes said he's "sure'' that Ojeda remains an influence locally.
The 85 defendants arrested represent a "very small percentage'' of local gang members, but their incarceration will "significantly'' affect the Mexican Mafia's trade locally, Barnes said. Most of the suspects are members of a local gang that operate under the umbrella of the Mexican Mafia, which has a few hundred actual members in the Southland, authorities said.
NBC4's Vikki Vargas contributed to this report.