A dangerous kidnapping and murder crew operating in San Diego has been dismantled, according to the District Attorney’s office.
17 members of the alleged crew, known as Los Palillos (the Toothpicks), have been indicted after a two-year investigation. The indictment includes nine murders that the D.A. said happened in San Diego County.
"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 District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis.
Los Palillos consisted of U.S. and Mexican citizens who allegedly established themselves in Tijuana after the leader's brother was killed by the Arellano Felix Cartel. Fearing their lives, members of the group fled to San Diego. The crew then began trafficking methamphetamine and marijuana, and committed numerous violent crimes.
"This case with this group of individuals, I've never seen a more ruthless, cold-blooded, sociopathic group of individuals willing to murder at will and not care about the consequences," Deputy District Attorney Mark Amador said.
The nine murder victims were lured to houses rented by members of Los Palillos, or abducted and held at those houses before eventually being murdered, according to investigators. Residents found the bodies of seven of the victims after being dumped in Chula Vista, San Diego and Bonita. The bodies of two murder victims were dissolved in acid in May of 2007 at a rented house on Garber Street.
The grand jury also indicted defendants for two other shootings, the attempted murder of a Chula Vista police officer and several kidnappings of victims whose families paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom.
Members of Los Palillos often impersonated police and used handguns and tasers to assault, rob, kidnap, and often times kill their victims, dozens of witnesses testified to the Grand Jury.
Some members of the ring were arrested in June of 2007, when law enforcement located a kidnapping victim being held at a home on Point Dume Court in Chula Vista. FBI SWAT operations rescued the 32-year old kidnapping victim (a business man living in Chula Vista) and apprehended five kidnappers.
Two leaders of Los Palillos were convicted of kidnapping for ransom in December of 2008 and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in January 2009. Other kidnappers have since pleaded guilty and two remain set for trial, according to Dumanis.
Los Palillos leader Jorge Rojas-Lopez is charged with nine murders with numerous special circumstances, making him eligible for the death penalty, Dumanis said. Fourteen other defendants are charged with at least one murder with special circumstances also making them eligible for the death penalty. Nine of the 17 charged individuals are already in custody on other charges.
The investigation included the largest DNA analysis ever performed by the San Diego Police Department crime lab.
"These are very significant cases involving individuals who chose to commit heinous acts. I'm very proud of the work our agencies have done together in the effort to arrest and prosecute these people," San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne said.
The District Attorney's Office is looking for eight more defendants. CrimeStoppers is offering up to a $1,000 reward for information that leads to their arrest. Anyone with information is asked to call 888-580-8477.