LOS ANGELES – While behind bars for three decades, a convicted murderer and member of the Mexican Mafia controlled a network of Los Angeles street gangs that sold drugs, committed killings and robbed students at the University of Southern California, authorities said in an indictment unsealed Thursday.
Investigators believe Danny Roman used his 23-year-old daughter Vianna Roman and her husband, Aaron Soto, to relay orders to gang members who ran criminal activities in neighborhoods and received protection from the notorious prison gang if they entered the penal system.
The 110-page indictment illustrated the havoc wreaked by the Mexican Mafia from maximum security prisons by "taxing" street-level gang members.
Among the crimes tied to the 56-year-old Roman in the documents were the May murder of a gang member and the gunpoint robbery last December of three USC students.
Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said Roman wasn't indicted because he's currently serving a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole for a 1984 first-degree murder conviction. Mrozek declined further comment.
The indictment charged Vianna Roman, Soto and 23 others with racketeering conspiracy — punishable by a possible life sentence — after a 2½-year investigation dubbed "Operation Roman Empire." Four others were indicted on other charges.
It wasn't immediately known if any of the suspects had retained attorneys.
Federal prosecutors said Roman exerted power over 13 gangs in South Los Angeles, including the Harpys, a gang that started in the mid-1960s and deals in methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine.
Court documents revealed that gang members in the network often used coded language while speaking in person, over the telephone or via text messages.
In August 2011, Jaime Montano, who also was charged, asked a confidential informant to seek approval from Roman to kill an inmate at Centinela State Prison who had testified against a member of another gang, the indictment states. The killing was never carried out.
Federal prosecutors also said the elder Roman orchestrated the extortion of vendors at a Los Angeles swap meet long known as a hub of criminal activity.
In one phone conversation, a man known only as "Tigre" characterized the collection of money from vendors for Roman's benefit as "union dues," documents state.
The so-called tax payments were funneled back to Danny Roman in money orders and gifts, authorities said.
Two years ago, state prison officials seized more than $25,000 held in Danny Roman's prison trust account after saying most of it came from gang and drug activity.
Court documents also show Vianna Roman was banned in January for a year from Pelican Bay State Prison, where her father is housed.
Over the course of the investigation, authorities seized more than eight pounds of methamphetamine, about a half-pound of heroin and one pound of cocaine, as well as 23 pounds of marijuana and 22 guns.