A three-month investigation in southeastern San Diego resulted in charges against five men and a woman who authorities say planned violent crimes, sold drugs and stored guns in a house at the direction of the Mexican Mafia prison gang, officials announced Tuesday.
San Diego police Chief David Nisleit said the house on Wunderlin Avenue in the Encanto neighborhood was used to sell drugs, store guns and plan violent crimes, including kidnappings. San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan called it a house “full of plans to cause murder” and other crimes.
The defendants were arrested last week in San Diego and National City. Three of them — Rafael Castro, 41, Samuel Diaz, 35, and Daniela Wilson, 39 — were charged in San Diego Superior Court with kidnapping for the purposes of extortion. According to a criminal complaint, the kidnapping occurred in early October, but no further details were available.
Wilson also was charged with soliciting someone to commit murder.
Other charges in the case include drug and gun offenses. The defendants also face allegations they committed the crimes for the benefit of a gang.
The defendants — the others are Daniel Contreras, 23, Eddie Quintana, 41, and David Quintana, 44 — have pleaded not guilty to the charges in San Diego Superior Court.
An attorney representing Castro did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The other defendants are being represented by the county Public Defender’s Office.
Stephan called the case “unique,” because the investigation revealed evidence of a direct link to the Mexican Mafia, which is known to direct several street gangs.
“We do know cases are linked to the Mexican Mafia, but to be able to connect them directly as we did in this case does not happen very often,” Stephan said at a Tuesday morning news conference.
According to prosecutors, Ronaldo Ayala, a California death row inmate, called the shots. They described Ayala as a leader in the Mexican Mafia and said he used cellphones in prison to issue commands to people on the outside.
“How he obtained that cellphone is not known to us at this time,” Deputy District Attorney Jeff Lazar said.
Ayala was not charged because he is on death row. He has been imprisoned since 1989 for the execution-style slayings of three men in southeastern San Diego. The victims were shot and killed in the garage of an auto repair shop in 1985. A fourth victim survived.
According to court documents, Ayala and his brother, Hector Ayala, intended to rob the victims, who ran a heroin distribution business out of the repair shop.
Hector Ayala was convicted in the killings in a separate trial and sentenced to death.
Officials did not share details about how the recent investigation tied to the house in Encanto began, although they said police received information from community members as part of the investigation.
“Today represents law enforcement and the community coming together to take down the underbelly that causes crime and violent crime across San Diego County,” Stephan said. “It hides in plain view — in this case on a block where there are families and kids.”
“Getting in there and cracking this case depended on community trust,” Stephan added.
As part of the investigation, law enforcement officials recovered nine assault rifles, six handguns, more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition, two explosive devices, drugs, including fentanyl pills and methamphetamine, $2,800 in cash and two stolen vehicles.
A seventh suspect was also arrested last week. Prosecutors are reviewing evidence for potential criminal charges against that person.
© 2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.