26 charged in raids targeting street gangs, Mexican Mafia prison gang

SAN DIEGO – Hundreds of federal agents and local law enforcement officers conducted dozens of raids across San Diego County, arresting alleged gang members and others with suspected gang ties on drug, gun, racketeering and other charges, authorities said Friday.

The raids, which took place early Thursday morning, were part of a yearlong investigation targeting alleged members of several San Diego-area street gangs and the Mexican Mafia, a notorious prison gang, according to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California.

Six complaints were filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday, with some of the 26 defendants named in just one complaint, and others in multiple complaints. The charges include racketeering, methamphetamine trafficking, a methamphetamine conspiracy charge, unlawful possession of a machine gun and other drug and gun charges.

As of 3 p.m. Thursday, 20 of those suspects were in custody, with those arrested during the early-morning raids joining others who were previously arrested.

At least six defendants named in the federal criminal complaints remained at large as of Thursday evening, federal prosecutors said. They were identified as Marla Caniglia, Christina Tovar, Farren “Sweetpea” Alcoser, Soledad “Negra” Mota, Tony Kiryakoza and Candice “Baby Doll” Apra.

During the investigation, a San Diego police gang suppression team stopped a Hummer in June on Jamacha Boulevard in Spring Valley and arrested three armed men who were on their way to rob and kidnap a rival gang member.

Investigators learned of the “hit,” which was ordered against a man known as “Grizzly from Palm City,” after listening in on conversations via court-approved surveillance, federal prosecutors said. The kidnapping was allegedly ordered on behalf of the Mexican Mafia prison gang, whose members believed the kidnapping target had stolen a laptop and other items from one of their associates.

Fady Esho, Sergio “Shaggy” Sanchez and Jose “Chapo” Hernandez were arrested during the stop and officers seized multiples zip ties, which were found in Esho’s rear pants pocket, along with a total of four firearms, prosecutors said.

Another complaint charged Robert Thomas Welsh with unlawful possession of a machine gun and possessing a firearm with the serial number destroyed.

A search warrant executed by Special Enforcement deputies from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department turned up 228 firearms at Welsh’s residence on Wilcat Canyon Road in Lakeside, federal prosecutors said.

The stash of weapons contained AR-15 rifles, silencers, guns with destroyed serial numbers, high-capacity magazines and a device known as a “Glock switch” that converts a semi-automatic pistol into an automatic pistol.

“The seizure of hundreds of firearms is a very significant strike against gang violence in our communities,” U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said in a statement.

Over the course of the investigation, authorities seized seven pounds of methamphetamine with an estimated street value of $150,000, federal prosecutors said.

The raids Thursday involved more than 200 agents from the FBI and other federal agencies, sheriff’s deputies from San Diego County and police officers from San Diego, National City, Chula Vista, La Mesa and El Cajon.

The 20 defendants who were in custody were arraigned Thursday in U.S. District Court, federal prosecutors said. All pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Prosecutors have asked a judge to order the defendants held in custody until they are tried, with a hearing set Tuesday for a judge to rule on that motion.