A three-month investigation in southeast San Diego led to charges against five men and a woman who authorities say planned violent crimes, sold drugs and stored weapons at a home under the gang’s direction of Mexican Mafia prisons, officials announced Tuesday.
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said the home on Wunderlin Avenue in the Encanto neighborhood was used to sell drugs, store weapons and plan violent crimes, including kidnappings. Summer Stephan, the San Diego County district attorney, called it a home “full of plans to commit murder” and other crimes.
The defendants were arrested last week in San Diego and National City. Three of them, Rafael Castro, 41, Samuel Diaz, 35, and Daniela Wilson, 39, were charged in San Diego Superior Court with kidnapping for extortion. According to a criminal complaint, the kidnapping occurred in early October, but no further details were available.
Wilson was also charged with soliciting someone to commit murder.
Other charges in the case include drug and weapons offenses. The defendants also face allegations that they committed the crimes for the benefit of a gang.
The defendants — the others are Daniel Contreras, 23, Eddie Quintana, 41, and David Quintana, 44 — have pleaded not guilty to the charges in San Diego Superior Court.
An attorney representing Castro did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The other accused are represented by the Public Defense of the region.
Stephan called the case “unique,” because the investigation revealed evidence of a direct link to the Mexican Mafia, which is known to run several street gangs.
“We know the cases are linked to the Mexican Mafia, but being able to connect them directly like we did in this case doesn’t happen very often,” Stephan said at a news conference Tuesday morning.
According to prosecutors, Ronaldo Ayala, a California death row inmate, fired the shots. They described Ayala as a Mexican Mafia leader and said he used cell phones in prison to give orders to people outside.
“At this time we do not know how he obtained this cell phone,” Assistant District Attorney Jeff Lazar said.
Ayala was not charged because he is on death row. He has been incarcerated since 1989 for the execution-style murder of three men in southeast San Diego. The victims were shot to death in the garage of an auto repair shop in 1985. A fourth victim survived.
According to court documents, Ayala and his brother, Héctor Ayala, intended to rob the victims, who ran a heroin distribution business out of the repair shop.
Hector Ayala was convicted of the murders in a separate trial and sentenced to death.
Officials did not share details about how the recent investigation involving the Encanto home began, although they said police received information from community members as part of the investigation.
“Today represents law enforcement and the community coming together to end the underbelly of crime and violent crime throughout San Diego County,” Stephan said. “It’s hiding in plain sight, in this case on a block where there are families and children.”
“Going in there and solving this case depended on the trust of the community,” Stephan added.
As part of the investigation, law enforcement recovered nine assault rifles, six handguns, more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition, two explosive devices, drugs, including fentanyl and methamphetamine pills, $2,800 in cash and two stolen vehicles
A seventh suspect was also arrested last week. Prosecutors are reviewing evidence for possible criminal charges against this person.