Judge Inspired by Woman’s Break From Mexican Mafia, Meth Addiction

Judge Inspired by Woman’s Break From Mexican Mafia, Meth Addiction

The Ronald Reagan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is seen in Santa Ana, Calif., on May 28, 2010. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

City News Service

City News Service

5/21/2024

Updated: 5/21/2024

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SANTA ANA, Calif.—A 39-year-old woman who acted as a lookout on a hit ordered by reputed Orange County Mexican Mafia chief Johnny Martinez was sentenced May 20 to time served in custody based on her hard work rehabilitating herself while out of custody.
Megan Moreno pleaded guilty June 12 to conspiring to commit assault resulting in serious bodily injury.
Ms. Moreno was part of a second crew of people Mr. Martinez allegedly directed to assault Ricardo Moncada on Dec. 25, 2017, because the alleged gang boss suspected Mr. Moncada was using drugs with “and making advances toward” Mr. Martinez’s girlfriend, prosecutors have said in court papers.
U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney sentenced 33-year-old Alex Gonzalez to four years in prison, which was much less than what probation officials and prosecutors had recommended, due to his attempts to rehabilitate himself.
Judge Carney was similarly moved by Ms. Moreno’s story to significantly reduce her punishment as well.
“Your story is very powerful,” Judge Carney told Ms. Moreno. “I was very moved by it. I’m inspired by it. ... You’ve shown it’s never too late to turn your life around. Keep up the good work.”
Authorities monitoring a wire ordered a traffic stop of Mr. Gonzalez, derailing the assault on Mr. Moncada, prosecutors said.
The wire helped investigators stymie a second planned attack on the victim, prosecutors said.
Ms. Moreno met with other co-defendants, who went to “scope out” the victim’s home before returning to a restaurant to “regroup,” prosecutors said. At some point, Ms. Moreno “watched the street where [the victim] was located while the rest of the crew, at least one of whom was armed with a firearm, went to [Mr. Moncada’s] location to carry out the assault.”
That prompted authorities to intercept the vehicle those defendants were in, triggering a pursuit in which one of the defendants tossed a loaded gun, prosecutors said.
Ms. Moreno “fell off a cliff” from a dependency on methamphetamine in 2015, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Scally. She has a “lengthy criminal history mostly involving drug possession, drug possession with intent to sell, and petty theft,” Mr. Scally said in court papers.
Judge Carney said he was concerned about the defendant’s ties to the Mexican Mafia, which he said was a “dangerous and destructive gang,” and wanted to know if she would renounce her connection. Her attorney, Rob Harley, said she has.
Judge Carney noted she had a traumatic upbringing at the hands of a “verbally abusive” mother and has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder and experiences panic attacks. She struggles with a bad back that will require surgery, he added.
Mr. Scally said that after digging more into the defendant’s background he backed off the 36 months he recommended in court papers in January. He said her case was “unique” because of her hard work while out of custody.
“I’m committed to making amends” to the victim, Ms. Moreno told Judge Carney.
She recalled, tearfully, how her stepfather sexually assaulted her and when she told her mother she was told, “He was drunk, he didn’t mean it.”
She said she got addicted to methamphetamine at 27 when she started “self-medicating.”
On May 4, 2021, her daughters issued an ultimatum—get sober or lose a relationship with them, she said.
“I chose them,” she said. “I’ve been sober ever since.”
After she was granted bail in February of last year she applied for a job with McDonald’s and worked her way up from the bottom to shift leader to a general manager of a restaurant.
She said she was “grateful” for her job and being a mother and grandmother.
“I’m blessed no matter what happens today,” she said.
Judge Carney responded, “Well, that was quite powerful. You inspire us all that there is hope.”
Judge Carney noted he often sees defendants who get caught in a “vicious cycle” of incarceration and drug addiction with little success of rehabilitation.
Ms. Moreno has about 10 months in custody, so Judge Carney sentenced her to 10 months and placed her on one year of supervised release.
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