Senora Gets 12 Years in Federal Prison for Carjacking, Soliciting Murder

          Cheryl Perez-Castaneda, 58 acted as a “señora” – or a high-level female associate for an imprisoned Mexican Mafia member – got 144 months in federal prison for using her power on the street to solicit a murder and for participating in a carjacking attempt that resulted in a shooting. She pleaded guilty in October 2020 to one count of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and one count of using a firearm during a crime of violence.

          Perez-Castaneda was a high-level associate of a Mexican Mafia cell run by Michael Lerma, 63, a.k.a. “Pomona Mike” and “Big Mike.” Lerma exercised control over, and extorted drug proceeds from, Latino street gangs in and around Pomona, as well as from inmates at Calipatria State Prison in Imperial County. Members of Lerma’s criminal enterprise also engaged in robberies, identity theft and fraud, drug trafficking, kidnapping, and other acts of violence, the indictment alleges. Lerma profited from these criminal activities when top-level female associates known as “señoras” deposited proceeds into his prison account. 

          Perez-Castaneda, who, from February 2012 to July 2016, acted as a “señora” by collecting extortionate “taxes” from Pomona drug dealers; distributing the drug proceeds to the Mexican Mafia, including Lerma, who was incarcerated at Pelican Bay State Prison; and giving orders to others regarding the racketeering enterprise’s criminal activities.

          Perez-Castaneda also used her power as Lerma’s voice on the street to solicit the murder of a Los Angeles County Jail inmate in July 2013 in retaliation for the shooting of her son. When Perez-Castaneda was informed that the victim had been stabbed, but not killed, she sought and obtained the approval of a Mexican Mafia member to have the victim placed on a “green light” list, marking him for murder.In July 2013, Perez-Castaneda also participated in the attempted theft of a Mercedes-Benz automobile owned by another jail inmate. When the car’s caretaker refused to hand over the vehicle, one of Perez-Castaneda’s co-defendants shot him. Perez-Castaneda laughed about the shooting on a recorded telephone call.

In March 2018, a federal grand jury charged Lerma and 12 other defendants with multiple felonies, including racketeering conspiracy, violent crimes in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, and firearms offenses. So far, prosecutors have secured five guilty pleas in this case. Trial for the other defendants in this case, including Lerma and Jose Valencia Gonzalez, the alleged shooter in the July 2013 carjacking incident, is scheduled for May 11.

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