A Los Angeles couple were sentenced to federal prison Monday for acting as so-called secretaries for the man's brother, an imprisoned Mexican Mafia member who relied on the pair to relay orders to the street.
Thomas Gonzales, 60, and Gloria Valerio, 66, both of Elysian Valley, were found guilty in March of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act -- RICO -- after a two-week trial in Los Angeles federal court. Gonzales also was found guilty of making a false statement to a law enforcement officer, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
In court Monday, Gonzales was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison, followed by two years of supervised release. Valerio was sentenced to five years behind bars, also followed by two years supervised release. She was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.
They were both immediately taken into custody.
Prosecutors said Gonzales and Valerio acted as intermediaries for imprisoned members of the Mexican Mafia prison gang and associates on the street. Secretaries often are not gang members themselves and have normal jobs and minimal criminal histories, which is why the Mexican Mafia targets them to be used as intermediaries, as they are able to make prison visits without arousing suspicion, authorities said.
In this case, Valerio worked as an insurance analyst and Gonzales was a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning technician.
Prosecutors had asked that U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez sentence Gonzales to more than 19 years behind bars, while the defense asked for a probationary term or house arrest. For Valerio, prosecutors recommended nearly 16 years.
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Gonzales and his girlfriend were among 22 defendants indicted four years ago under federal racketeering charges connected to his brother, Arnie.
The imprisoned gang leader had ordered the unification of three street gangs to control the drug trade in an area along the Los Angeles River from Elysian Park to Burbank and extort the area's legitimate and illegal businesses, federal prosecutors said.
Nearly all defendants have been convicted in the case with some receiving sentences of up to 25 years behind bars.
At trial, jurors saw more than 35 video clips from 11 prison visits in 2012 and 2013 where Valerio and Gonzales visited his brother, who's serving a life sentence at Pelican Bay State Prison on a murder conviction.
As the gang leader's eyes and ears on the streets, the couple stored extortion money collected in his name. While some of the money was paid into the gang leader's prison account, a search warrant executed at the defendants' home in June 2015 resulted in the seizure of more than $22,000 in cash.
Evidence at trial also showed that the defendants used coded language to inform Arnie Gonzales about someone who was falsely claiming to have the authority to collect payments on his behalf. That person later was marked for death, the jury heard.