Five Pelican Bay State Prison gang leaders were sentenced Thursday to life in federal prison on various racketeering, drug and weapons violations after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted their state terms.
The inmates were already serving life sentences at the notorious state prison in Crescent City that houses California's worst offenders. With their convictions, they will be transferred to separate federal prisons around the country.
"By incarcerating these defendants in federal maximum security prisons, this organization's operational capabilities will be seriously disrupted," U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan said.
Defendants Cornelio Tristan, 44, James Morado, 57, Joseph Hernandez, 55, Gerald Rubalcaba, 50, and Tex Hernandez, 50, were leaders of the Nuestra Familia prison gang. They admitted that while they were behind bars, the organization murdered two former gang members and engaged in numerous drug transactions from which they profited.
The five defendants were the last of 22 Nuestra Familia members and associates sentenced in the federal case that began five years ago.
The U.S. Justice Department's key witness in the case, former Nuestra Familia leader Daniel Fred Hernandez, will soon walk free even though he admitted to selling drugs and committing other crimes while working for the government.
Hernandez, 42, cut a deal with federal prosecutors for a reduced sentence in return for providing evidence against fellow gang members. He was arrested nearly five years ago and faced life in prison on the same racketeering charges as the others.
As part of his plea deal, Hernandez agreed to wear a wire and set up drug and gun buys for fellow gang members.
Hernandez was sentenced Wednesday in San Francisco by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer to 54 months in federal custody. He has already served 49 months and has received credit for good behavior.
Nuestra Familia originated about 40 years ago within prison walls among Hispanic inmates from rural Northern California as a way for members to protect themselves against rival prison gangs.