Judge Sentences Two Men Who Were Convicted of Racketeering Conspiracy but Acquitted of Triple Homicide

Two men who were convicted of racketeering conspiracy but acquitted of conspiring in a 2010 gang-related triple murder in South San Francisco were sentenced in federal court in San Francisco today.

Benjamin Campos-Gonzalez, 24, of San Mateo, was ordered by U.S. District Judge Susan Illston to serve five years and 10 months in prison for conspiring to racketeer, or conduct a continuing criminal enterprise.

Armando Acosta, 30, of Pacifica, was sentenced by Illston to 10 years in prison. He was convicted by a jury in Illston’s court last fall of racketeering conspiracy, being an accessory after the fact to murder and obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors alleged that the racketeering was organized by a Norteno-affiliated South San Francisco gang called the 500 Block/C Street gang. The racketeering allegedly included murderous attacks on rivals, drug dealing, car thefts and robberies, according to a 2012 grand jury indictment.

Campos-Gonzalez and Acosta were both also charged with conspiring in the shooting murders of three young men perceived to be members of a rival Norteno gang, the Cypress Park Locos. The victims were gunned down on a South San Francisco street corner by shooters who emerged from a passing car on the evening of Dec. 22, 2010. Three companions were wounded and a seventh man in the group was not injured.

But both Campos-Gonzalez and Acosta were acquitted of murder conspiracy.

Campos-Gonzalez was additionally accused but acquitted by trial jury on three counts of carrying out the murders in aid of racketeering. Prosecutors alleged he was the driver of the car. Campos-Gonzalez and his lawyers argued there was no proof that he was even at the scene.

Two other alleged gang members have been convicted of the murders and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Joseph Ortiz, a 23-year-old resident of South San Francisco, pleaded guilty before Illston in 2013 to the murders and numerous other crimes. He was sentenced to five consecutive life terms plus 60 years in prison.

Ortiz was the only defendant for whom prosecutors had decided to seek a rare federal death penalty. His plea bargain enabled him to avoid that penalty.

Victor Flores, 23, of Petaluma, was convicted in last year’s trial of the three murders as well as racketeering conspiracy and the attempted murder of three U.S. Homeland Security Department agents who conducted a predawn raid on his family’s house in Petaluma to arrest him in 2012.

He was sentenced by Illston on Friday to three concurrent life terms plus 35 years in prison.

Campos-Gonzalez and Acosta both claimed they were not members of the gang at the time of the crimes. Prosecutors disputed that claim. Illston instructed jurors that they didn’t need to find that the two men were gang members in order to convict them of conspiring in the racketeering enterprise.

Campos-Gonzalez and Acosta are the last of 19 gang members and associates named in the indictment to complete trial-level court proceedings.

One man, Mario Bergren, 26, of South San Francisco, was acquitted of all charges in the same trial in which Flores, Campos-Gonzalez and Acosta were convicted.

The 15 other defendants, including Joseph Ortiz, previously pleaded guilty to various charges.

Ortiz’s father, Michael Ortiz Sr., a 52-year-old resident of San Bruno, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact in the murders as well as helping his son flee temporarily to Mexico. He was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison.

Another defendant, 22-year-old Justin Whipple from San Bruno, was also accused of the three murders but in a plea bargain pleaded guilty to four attempted murders of the three wounded victims and the companion who was not injured.

He rode in the car and got out with Flores and Ortiz but did not fire his gun, according to prosecutors. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

The men who were killed in the shooting were Omar Cortez, 18, Gonzalo Avalos, 19, and Hector Flores, 20, all from South San Francisco.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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