28 arrested in gang investigation. Planned murder and robbery prevented, police say

A multi-agency gang investigation prevented a murder and home invasion robbery this year, resulted in the arrests of 28 people, and culminated Thursday with 18 search warrants, and the seizure of firearms and drugs.

After an uptick in violence last year, including drive-by shootings, home invasion robberies and homicides, Modesto Police began looking for a root cause. They found a link to the Nuestra Familia prison gang and its subsidiary, the Norteño street gang, Modesto Police Department Capt. Brandon Gillespie said during a press conference on Friday.

The local street gang members were receiving orders from the prison gang in a carefully orchestrated, almost corporate organization: “They were paying taxes to the Nuestra Familia prison gang and receiving orders,” Gillespie said,

Orders to carry out much of the violence were linked back to one man who’s serving a life sentence for a double murder in Modesto’s La Loma neighborhood in 2009 and additional time for a third murder in Modesto’s airport neighborhood in 2010.

Detective Sean Martin of the Modesto Police Department’s gang unit said Joe Ramirez — through letters, personal interactions and phone calls — made orders to high level Norteño Gang members both in and out of custody in Stanislaus County.

Orders were made to David Desmond, 35, of Modesto, who was out of custody, and 25-year-old Phillip Lopez, who’d been in prison on a conviction for the same 2010 murder and home invasion robbery Ramirez was convicted of but was transferred back to Stanislaus County Jail in December for additional hearings on the case, officials said.

Desmond was one of 17 suspects arrested during the raids on Thursday. Others were arrested throughout the year on various drugs, weapons and gang related charges.

The raids also netted seizure of 21 guns, nearly $16,000 in cash and various illegal drugs during searches at 18 locations.

“This operation has no doubt delivered a blow to the Nuestra Familia and Norteño criminal street gang operating in our community and it is going to hinder them from operating efficiently,” Gillespie said. “We will remain vigilant in combating criminal organizations and gangs in our community as they try to reorganize and we will relentlessly use any and all available resources to disrupt and dismantle them.”

Police Chief Galen Carroll said the investigation involved his department as well as several partner agencies — and in the middle of it, his detectives had to divert their attention to a homicide.

“While we were stretched very thin ... we had the senseless homicide of Cinnamon Eades,” Carroll said. Investigators paused their sweep preparations to handle that case, in which they arrested a suspect within eight hours.

Investigators would not discuss how they were able to thwart crimes like murder and robbery through the investigation but speaking in general, Martin said techniques they used include keeping marked patrol vehicles in the area of the victims’ home or business, conducting traffic stops or probation searches on the suspect and arresting them on different charges.

Ramirez, Lopez and Desmond and eight others were arrested or rearrested Thursday on charges of conspiracy to commit murder. Ramirez, Desmond and six others also are charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping and/or conspiracy to commit home invasion robbery.

Investigators wouldn’t say who the suspects were targeting but Martin said while gang members typically direct violence toward rival and dropout gang members, robberies are sometimes committed against business owners or other non-gang members and anyone can become an innocent bystander.

Ramirez killed a 10-year-old boy in the 2010 double homicide when he intended to kill the boy’s father.

“Criminal street gangs operate through fear and intimidation and violence that are a real threat to the safety and security of our community,” Gillespie said. “The mission of our street gang unit has always been to protect the citizens of our community by disrupting and dismantling street gangs. This operation has moved us closer to that goal.”

The Modesto Police worked with the California Department of Justice, the California Highway Patrol Special Operations Unit and the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office on the months-long investigation and got assistance from other local agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties for the raids on Thursday.

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Erin has been covering breaking news and crime at The Modesto Bee since 2010. She is a Humboldt State graduate and resides in Oakdale.