updated 4/27/2007 11:44:50 PM ET 2007-04-28T03:44:50

Thirteen reputed members of one of California’s most feared gangs were arrested this week on narcotics and money laundering charges, according to court papers unsealed Friday.

The raids early Thursday netted top members of the Mexican Mafia in the Coachella Valley, a desert area east of Los Angeles, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.

“Operation Clean House” followed a 10-month wiretap investigation of Jose Chavez Huerta, 42, who is alleged to have run a sophisticated methamphetamine and heroin trafficking business as shot caller for the area’s branch of the Mexican Mafia.

Huerta, arrested in the sting, demanded taxes from drug money earned by Latino gang members in the Coachella Valley and paid a cut to his Mexican Mafia sponsor, Richard “Psycho” Aguirre, authorities said. Aguirre is serving a life sentence at Pelican Bay State Prison.

Aguirre’s mother, Jovita Aguirre, 75, collected Huerta’s payments and passed along orders to him from her son, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Riverside County.

Alleged campaign of intimidation
Huerta and his deputy, Tony Rodriguez, 36, enforced their control of the region with murders and assaults, including of inmates in prison, and home invasion robberies, according to the complaint.

The Mexican Mafia, also called “La Eme,” was formed by Mexican-American inmates in a Northern California prison in the 1950s as a front against racist attacks. It has since fanned out across the state prison system and to Mexican and U.S. streets.

Authorities say the self-proclaimed “gang of all gangs” has cowed a who’s who of the state’s deadliest gangs — including Aryan Brotherhood and 18th Street — into paying taxes in their turf, which primarily runs south of Fresno.

“La Eme” hits gangs who refuse the arrangement with a so-called “green light,” making them a target for retaliation by the gang and its allies.

Police: Raids netted drugs, guns, cash
Federal agents listened in as Huerta and others appeared to furiously hustle drug deals and demand tax payments from one another as deadlines loomed, according to the transcripts.

After Huerta found out that Internal Revenue Service investigators had intercepted one of his payments to Jovita Aguirre, he sounded resigned to getting arrested and exacting revenge on associates in the Riverside County jail who he believed had been talking too much, the transcripts showed.

“The day I get busted, I’m going to go in there and start whacking ... for being stupid,” he told Rodriguez in an intercepted phone conversation, according to court papers.

Authorities said Thursday’s raids netted more than 50 guns, methamphetamine, a live pipe bomb, $15,000 in cash and several vehicles. It wasn’t immediately known whether the 13 had attorneys.

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