Orange County

Jail Informant Who Played Central Role in Takedown of Mexican Mafia Chief Takes Own Life

Oscar Daniel Moriel, 40, of Riverside, died from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Sept. 14 in Huntington Beach.

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A prolific jailhouse informant who played a central role in the takedown of former Orange County Mexican mafia chief Peter Ojeda apparently took his own life in Huntington Beach last month, authorities confirmed.

Oscar Daniel Moriel, 40, of Riverside, died from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound on the morning of Sept. 14 in Huntington Beach, according to Jennifer Carey of the Huntington Beach Police Department.

The official cause of death was still pending, according to Orange County sheriff's Sgt. Ryan Anderson.

Moriel pleaded guilty in June to possession of a firearm by a felon and being a prohibited person owning ammunition, both felonies. He was scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 22.

According to court papers, the proposed sentence was to be two years in prison.

Moriel was arrested in August 2020 on the gun charges.

He copped a plea deal in December 2017 in an attempted murder case that resulted in a 17-year sentence that was expected to be finished by 2020 because he had already served 4,832 days in custody since his June 2006 arrest in that case.

In the 2017 plea deal, Moriel admitted shooting rival gang member Joe Elias on Oct. 27, 2005, according to Assistant District Attorney James Laird.

Moriel testified for three days in December 2015 against Ojeda, who was sentenced in May 2016 to 15 years in federal prison and later died.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe McNally, who prosecuted Ojeda, advocated for Moriel's plea deal in the attempted murder case telling Judge Patrick Donahue the informant played a key role in not only taking down Ojeda, but the mafia chief's rival, Armando Moreno.

The war between Ojeda and Moreno led to a spike in jailhouse violence, prompting Operation Black Flag, which Moriel played a key role in assisting, McNally said.

Moriel intercepted a "kite," a nickname for a jailhouse note, that targeted an inmate for death, and he alerted authorities, saving the man's life, McNally said.

Moriel, who began cooperating with authorities in 2009, gave unique information that allowed the FBI to get authorization for wiretaps, McNally said.

Orange County prosecutors also brought cases against local gang members as part of Operation Black Flag, so Moriel was helpful in those convictions as well, Laird said in December 2017. Of the 57 people indicted in 2011 in state and federal courts in the operation, 53 had been convicted and two died of cancer before going to trial, he said.

Moriel also testified in three state court trials, but made headlines when he took the stand in the evidentiary hearings on outrageous governmental misconduct in the case against Scott Dekraai, the most prolific mass killer in the county's history.

Because of the misconduct, Dekraai got off the hook for the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Another murder case in which Moriel testified fell apart because of misconduct and the defendant struck a plea deal that allowed him to walk out of jail with credit for time served. Laird said that was due entirely to police misconduct.

During Dekraai's evidentiary hearings, Moriel, under limited immunity, testified that he may have killed five or six people but was never charged.

Moriel's notes, which he kept while acting as an informant, led Dekraai's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, to a scheme in which informants were placed in disciplinary isolation with other defendants to solicit information from them. Moriel's testimony and other evidence he provided cleared the way for plea deals in two separate murder cases that led to the release of a pair of convicted killers.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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