A prominent member of a local prison-based gang called the Mexican Mafia has been sentenced to serve nearly 22 years in federal prison, U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy announced.
Salvadore Colabella, 54, who ran a local methamphetamine trafficking ring linked to the Mexican Mafia, was sentenced Friday to 262 months in prison based on his plea to RICO conspiracy charges.
According to court documents, Colabella actively participated in the Mexican Mafia, a group that controls the criminal conduct of thousands of Hispanic street gang member in Southern California. Colabella controlled a significant portion of the criminal activity linked to this group in San Diego.
In Colabella’s guilty plea, he admitted to personally engaging in drug trafficking and extortion, and profiting from the criminal activity of gang members under his command.
Court documents reveal Mexican Mafia members like Colabella would collect so-called “taxes,” or extortion payments from gang members in exchange for the right to conduct illegal activities free from interference of the Mexican Mafia.
Colabella admitted he had authority over several Mexican Mafia associates who collected taxes on his behalf.
The taxes were collected through violence or the threat of violence. In one instance, one of Colabella’s top associates stabbed a drug dealer over a dispute over the dealer’s payment of taxes.
The drug dealers who paid these taxes to Colabella were responsible for distributing methamphetamine and drugs on the streets of San Diego. Over time, Colabella collected tens of thousands of dollars through these extortion payments in cash, cars and other valuable items, according to court documents.
Colabella’s case was part of the multi-agency, long-term investigation called “Operation Carnalismo.” The investigation resulted in charges against 36 individuals suspected of RICO conspiracy, violent crime in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to distribute drugs and the distribution of drugs.
Colabella has been custody since January 2012. Most of the other individuals charged in “Operation Carnalismo” have already been sentenced to prison. A few are still awaiting their sentencing, scheduled for the coming months.
A leader of the Mexican Mafia, Rudy “Crazy” Espudo, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and drug trafficking charges Thursday. His sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 7.
According to court records, while the Mexican Mafia has thousands of associates, membership is quite rare. Law enforcement estimates that there are only about 150 to 200 Mexican Mafia members operating in the United States.
U.S. Attorney Duffy called Friday’s sentencing of Colabella another “significant step” toward fighting criminal activity linked to the Mexican Mafia.
“Today’s sentencing marks another significant step toward our office’s effort to combat the dangerous criminal activity of gangs and, in particular, the Mexican Mafia. Gang members should take note: their organized criminal activity will not be tolerated, and we will continue to use the full resources of our office and our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute organized gang crime,” said Duffy.