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Woman with ties to Mexican Mafia sentenced to prison

WHITTIER — A Whittier woman who was convicted earlier this year on several charges related to her role as a “secretary” to an imprisoned Mexican Mafia member who controlled a street gang was sentenced Monday to 151 months in federal prison.

Sylvia Olivas, 73, was sentenced by United States District Judge Dale S. Fischer for playing an active role in the affairs of the Canta Ranas street gang.

Following a 2½-week trial in February, a federal jury found Olivas guilty of participating in three separate conspiracies – one to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act, a second involving the trafficking of methamphetamine and heroin, and a third centered on money laundering.

For at least a decade, Olivas served as the secretary to her brother, David Gavaldon, a long-time member of the Canta Ranas street gang who was not charged in this case as he is serving a life-without-parole sentence in Pelican Bay State Prison.

From prison, Gavaldon exerted control over Canta Ranas and other gangs, and he received compensation in the form of “rent” or “taxes” generated by drug trafficking and other offenses committed in gang territory.

Olivas regularly visited Gavaldon to discuss gang business and obtain orders that she brought back to the gang.

Olivas “was a Mexican Mafia secretary in a large-scale racketeering enterprise – a powerful and highly respected role within this criminal organization,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

“Despite her false and misleading statements in trial to cover up her involvement in the CRO [Canta Ranas Organization], the evidence overwhelmingly showed that defendant knew exactly what happened in the CRO and participated in it by passing messages from Mexican Mafia leader David Gavaldon to two generations of shot callers, delivering edicts on extortionate taxes, secretly meeting with CRO members to collect taxes and launder them through her accounts to distribute them to David Gavaldon and his chosen recipients, and using code and other measures to cover her criminal activity from law enforcement.”

When she imposed the sentence, Judge Fischer disputed Olivas’ contention that she should receive leniency because she had no prior criminal convictions.

“She has been in trouble every day of her life helping the CRO, she was just never caught,” the judge said.

Olivas was among 51 defendants charged in a 2016 federal grand jury indictment targeting Canta Ranas members and associates. Nearly all of those defendants have been convicted, including Jose Loza, the “shot caller” of the Santa Fe Springs and Whittier-based Canta Ranas gang, who was sentenced in March to life plus an additional 30 years in federal prison.

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