Defendants Plead Not Guilty in 2010 Shooting

Most defendants in the South San Francisco 2010 triple homicide case pleaded not guilty to charges ranging from obstruction to conspiracy to racketeering murder at a hearing today.

The majority of the 19 defendants pleaded not guilty to federal charges today relating to .

Of the 15 defendants who made their first appearance in United States District Court in the case Friday before Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero, 13 pleaded not guilty to charges ranging from obstruction of justice, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering and racketeering murder. Two others, Richard Martinez, 25, and Andrew Bryant, 29, deferred pleas until their attorneys could appear with them.

Four additional defendants, Benjamin Campos-Gonzalez, 21, Rodrigo Aguayo, 23, Gregorio Guzman, 38, and Peter Davis, 26, are in state custody and will be transferred to federal custody next week to face charges.

Campos-Gonzalez, as well as Joseph Ortiz, 22, Justin Whipple, 19, and Victor Flores, 20, are charged with racketeering murder and .

Friday’s hearing was largely procedural as Judge Spero appointed attorneys for the defendants, accepted pleas and scheduled bail hearings. But some details did emerge about the government’s case and the relationship between the defendants.

The defendants include five family members who are all charged in aspects of the crime: Joseph Ortiz, his brother, Michael Ortiz Jr., 25, his father, Michael Ortiz, Sr., 48, his mother, Tanya Rodriguez, 45, and his aunt, Betty Ortiz, 49.  

The indictment accuses Joseph Ortiz of being one of the shooters, and the government has charged him with three counts of racketeering murder, which carries a minimum sentence of life in prison and a maximum sentence of death for each count.

Ortiz is also charged with racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering and obstruction. Ortiz is additionally being charged with four counts of attempted murder in aid of racketeering and a firearms offense relating to a Dec. 18, 2010 shooting in Daly City.

In a separate trial that starts Monday, Ortiz is charged with armed robbery and use of a firearm in the April 5, 2010 robbery of jewelry store Joyeria Deira at 349 Grand Ave.

His father and brother, Michael Ortiz Sr., and Michael Ortiz Jr., are charged with conspiracy and being accessories after the fact to the South San Francisco shooting.

When Judge Spero asked Ortiz Sr., if he understood the charges against him, he replied, “I don’t because this is a mistake. I didn’t do nothing.”

Ortiz’s mother, Tanya Rodriguez, is charged with being an accessory after the fact. When her lawyer asked Assistant U.S. Attorney W.S. Wilson Leung to explain why the government objected to bail in her case, Leung said the government has wiretap evidence of a scheme to help her son, Joseph Ortiz, flee the country. She assisted her son’s flight to Mexico, helped others wire him money and Ortiz smuggled her to Mexico as well, Leung said.

Michael Ortiz Sr.’s lawyer argued that as Joseph Ortiz’s case has been going on over the past two months, his parents have made every court appearance and thus aren’t flight risks. Their bail hearings were scheduled for next week.

Ortiz’s aunt, Betty Ortiz, is charged with being an accessory after the fact. Her lawyer said she has leukemia and needs medication daily.

The government’s argument rests on the allegation that all defendants were members or associates of the and carried out the shooting as part of a racketeering enterprise that included other criminal activity, including “narcotics trafficking, extortion, robbery, and murder,” according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Friday’s hearing was held in a secure courtroom where entrance and exit was regulated. Family members of victim Gonzalo Avalos came to the hearing, as well as relatives of the defendants. Several cried and shook their heads as Judge Spero read the charges and potential sentences.

After the hearing concluded, one woman moved closer to the defendants and said to a loved one, “I love you with all my heart.”

After their bail hearings, the defendants will next appear in court on June 22 before Judge Susan Illston for a status update.

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Tess May 05, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Drew - You have outdone yourself with your reporting on this story. The wealth of details are thoroughly clear and well organized. I can't tell you enough what a great service you are doing for your community. Keeping us informed with the latest news and educating us about the gang situation in our town is invaluable. I have lived in SSF for 30 years and I had no idea that these dangerous gangs had such a strong foothold here. Knowing about them will help us all as a community. The subject matter may be grim, but thank you for being such a professional reporter.
Drew Himmelstein May 05, 2012 at 12:52 AM
Thank you, Tess. I do appreciated it.
Antonio Catpo May 05, 2012 at 04:09 AM
Agree with Tess. Keep up the good job, Drew.
Donna Faria May 05, 2012 at 12:38 PM
I must add my thank you also, Drew. Here is where I first heard of this raid and capture on Thursday. Thank you for the prompt coverage. I, too, am a life long South City resident and really appreciate you keeping us all well informed.
M J P May 05, 2012 at 02:32 PM
I agree wholeheartedly, Drew. Thank you so much.


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