Authorities announced charges Thursday against a Mexican gang that brought Tijuana-style violence to the upscale suburbs of San Diego County, kidnapping, torturing and murdering well-to-do residents, even after some families paid large ransoms.
The gang, a rogue cell of the Tijuana, Mexico-based Arellano Felix drug cartel, moved across the border in 2002 and posed as U.S. law enforcement, donning FBI and police uniforms and caps while snatching victims outside homes and public places, said San Diego County prosecutors.
Nine victims were killed from 2004 to 2007, with two of their bodies dissolved in chemicals at a rented house in San Diego. Gang members also were charged with trying to murder a Chula Vista, Calif., police officer in September 2005.
The gang targeted people it suspected of having links to organized crime, although some victims had no known ties, authorities said. Prosecutors charged 17 defendants, including gang leader Jorge Rojas Lopez, who is serving a life sentence for one of the abductions. Eight of those charged Thursday remain at large. The remainder have been in custody on previous charges.
“This rogue group of individuals is responsible for a string of brutal murders and kidnappings that demonstrate the ugly reality of cross-border violence,” said San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis.
Spillover crime from Tijuana’s gang wars is relatively small given the scale and brutality of the violence there. Nevertheless, the gang’s migration to the San Diego area reinforces concern that border vigilance is no match for Mexican organized crime.