Closing Arguments Begin in South SF Triple Murder Racketeering Case

A two-and-a-half month racketeering trial in which two alleged gang members are accused of a triple murder in South San Francisco in 2010 began winding up as prosecutors started on closing arguments in federal court in San Francisco today.

Victor Flores, 22, of Petaluma, and Benjamin Campos-Gonzalez, 23, of San Mateo, each face three counts of murder in aid of racketeering and four counts of attempted murder in a gunfire attack on a group of young men at a South San Francisco street corner on Dec. 22, 2010.

Three men died in the shooting, three others were wounded and a seventh member of the group was unharmed.

Prosecutors contend Flores and Campos-Gonzalez were members of the Norteno-affiliated 500 Block/C Street gang in South San Francisco and believed the victims belonged to a rival Norteno gang, the Cypress Park Locos, which allegedly had threatened their territory.

They are on trial together with alleged fellow gang members Armando Acosta, 29, of Pacifica, and Mario Bergren, 25, of South San Francisco, on a total of 22 charges including racketeering, murder, attempted murder, robbery and use of guns in violent crimes.

The trial before a jury in the court of U.S. District Judge Susan Illston began on June 26. Prosecution and defense closing arguments are expected to continue at least through Wednesday before the case goes to the jury.

While only Flores and Campos-Gonzalez are accused of the three murders, all four defendants are accused of conspiring to racketeer, or to conduct a continuing criminal enterprise; conspiring to commit murder in aid or racketeering; and conspiring to commit assault, among other charges.

Prosecutors contend that Flores was one of two shooters and that Campos-Gonzalez drove the Chevy Impala from which the attackers spotted the victims walking along Eighth Lane near the intersection of Linden Avenue at dusk.

Another defendant, Joseph Ortiz, 23, of South San Francisco, pleaded guilty last year to being one of the shooters in the murders as well as to numerous other counts.

In a plea bargain that enabled him to avoid a potential federal death penalty, he was sentenced by Illston to five consecutive life terms plus 60 years in prison.

An additional passenger in the Chevy Impala, Justin Whipple, 21, of San Bruno, was also originally charged with the murders, but pleaded guilty to four attempted murders and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was not alleged to have fired any shots.

During his closing argument today, Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Tolkoff described the murders as “brutal” and showed the jury a photo of the bloodstained sidewalk on Eighth Lane shortly after the shooting.

“There was a bloodbath on Eighth Lane. Three young men lost their lives,” he said.

He told jurors the alleged racketeering enterprise run by gang members included murder, attempted murder, assault, robbery and drug sales.

Tolkoff will complete his closing argument Tuesday, after which defense attorneys for the four men will begin theirs.

Flores and Campos-Gonzalez could have faced a possible death penalty if convicted of carrying out murders in aid of racketeering, but prosecutors decided not to seek that penalty. If convicted, however, they would face mandatory life sentences.

Flores is also charged with the attempted murders of three U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who arrested him at his family’s home in Petaluma in the pre-dawn hours of May 3, 2012.

The three agents were wounded, one seriously, by rifle shots.

Defense attorney Richard Mazer told jurors at the start of the trial that Flores contends he acted in self-defense because he thought the agents in the 4 a.m. raid were the unknown enemies who shot and wounded his younger brother in South San Francisco a year earlier.

That attack caused the family to move to Petaluma, Mazer said.

The four men on trial are the last remaining defendants among 19 alleged gang members and associates indicted on racketeering charges in 2012. The others have all pleaded guilty to various charges.

In addition to Ortiz and Whipple, they include five members of Ortiz’s family who admitted helping him flee to Mexico after the shootings.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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