Latino gang members plead guilty to firebombing homes of blacks in Boyle Heights

BOYLE HEIGHTS --  A member of the Big Hazard gang pleaded guilty to orchestrating the May 2014 firebombings intended to drive out black tenants from the primarily Latino Ramona Gardens housing project, according to the U.S. Attorney.

Carlos Hernandez, also known as “Rider,” pleaded guilty Monday to five felonies that carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

The 34-year-old Hernandez is the last of the eight members of the Latino gang who have pleaded guilty in connection with the federal hate crimes case.

“Hernandez told the other codefendants who were present that the African-American victims were being targeted for firebombing because of their race,” according to his plea agreement.

Hernandez admitted that he “and the codefendants knew that throwing firebombs into occupied residences after midnight created a substantial likelihood of causing serious bodily injury” to the African-American families.

According to prosecutors, Hernandez assigned a specific role to each gang member in the attacks, gave them hammers to break windows and masks to hide their identity. The gang selected four apartments, three of which were occupied by African Americans, to firebomb on the night of Mother's Day 2014. None of the residents were injured during the attacks.

Hernandez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate civil rights, violent crime in aid of racketeering, using fire and carrying explosives to commit another federal felony, using and possessing a firearm in a crime of violence, and violating the Fair Housing Act.

Hernandez is scheduled to be sentenced on October 7. The seven other defendants are also scheduled to be sentenced later this year.

Jesus Sanchez, publisher of The Eastsider, has more than 30 years experience in newspaper and online journalism. 

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