Accused gang members arraigned on 25 counts

By Kim Curtis Associated Press Writer
Friday April 27, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge entered innocent pleas Thursday for 13 Nuestra Familia gang members and associates facing a litany of federal charges including murder, robbery, conspiracy and drug-related crimes. 

The charges came in a 25-count indictment handed down last week at the end of a three-year, $5 million joint local, state and federal investigation. 

The 12 men and one woman filled the jury box in Judge Charles Breyer’s courtroom. Most were heavily tattooed and all wore red jail jumpsuits. They also wore 18-inch leg chains, waist chains with handcuffs and maximum security boxes, which covers the locks on the handcuffs so they can’t be picked. 

Everyone entering the courtroom had to pass through a metal detector and allow any bags to be searched. Inside, dozens of U.S. marshals and other officers kept an eye on the defendants and a handful of family members attending the arraignment. 

Tom Klenieski, spokesman for the U.S. marshals, said it had been about 20 years since the federal courthouse had used such drastic security measures. 

“These guys came from a maximum-security prison,” he said. “Some of them were serving life sentences.” 

Authorities say five leaders of the Nuestra Familia gang — Ceasar Ramirez, 40, Rico Garcia, 34, Gerald Rubalcaba, 46, Tex Marin Hernandez, 47, and Jacob Enriquez, 40 — were responsible for the murders of at least five men between 1997 and 1999. 

They and other members also unsuccessfully tried to arrange the killings of at least 10 more men and women, officials said. 

Several members orchestrated their crimes from behind the walls of Pelican Bay State Prison, authorities said. 

Now, all 13 defendants are being housed at the maximum security unit at the North County Jail in Oakland, Klenieski said. 

Nuestra Familia originated within prison walls in 1965 among Hispanic inmates from rural Northern California as a means of protecting themselves against rival prison gang members. 

On Thursday, the defendants were arraigned by Magistrate Jim Larson, then had a status conference before Breyer, who set a Jan. 28, 2002, trial date despite the objections of defense lawyers. 

Attorney Richard Mazer, arguing that client Rubalcaba could face the death penalty, said he has more than 50,000 pages of discovery to review and asked the judge to push back the date. 

But Breyer simply urged the defense lawyers to begin work immediately on the case. 

“The decision as to whether the case is ready to go to trial is one that the court will make,” he said. ”(But) I don’t want people to leave the courtroom with the impression that this date ... is not realistic from the court’s point of view.” 

Breyer also scheduled a court hearing for July 19.