It’s one of the largest gang crackdowns we’ve seen in West Michigan and now the men accused are starting to appear in federal court.
Thursday, during detention hearings, a special agent took the stand and accused Ramon Morales of being a former “Inca” or chapter leader in the Holland Latin Kings.
They also accused Joseph Menchaca, 27, of being a treasurer in the gang.
Their testimony gave us a look at what gang life might be like in Holland.
Prosecutors accused Ramon Morales, 36, of distributing or selling cocaine and possessing a medical marijuana card and pot plants.
Special agents testified the sale of cocaine and marijuana was part of Latin King gang life and it was common for members to get a medical marijuana card, which Morales had.
Other drugs like heroin or acid were not prohibited in the gang.
Agents claim the men also attended gang meetings called servicios.
Authorities say the gang often met in public parks where surveillance would be more difficult.
Informants said gang members were strip-searched before each meeting to make sure nobody was wearing a wire and there was a gang prayer recited, referencing that members were “360 degrees strong.”
Agents said sometimes at the meetings there would be fun activities too, such as kickball.
Members also allegedly discussed grievances, rival gangs and punishment to those who didn’t follow the constitution and manifesto laid out by the national organization and Holland chapter.
Authorities reported on the stand that they found a gun in Morale’s home in July during a raid.
Agents also testified he was stripped of his position as “Inca”, chapter leader, after facing weapons charges because gang members were suspicious he was cooperating with authorities.
His attorney argued Morales had tested clean for drugs and was meeting court dates with that case.
His attorney argued he should receive bond because he’d been working at a quick oil shop and needed to get back to work to take care of his family. He assured the judge Morales would not flee.
However, prosecutors argued his loyalties were still with the gang, saying he’d allegedly shown regional gang leader Eric Ruibal an affidavit related to the case.
They say it showed that Morales was following a rule in the gang, that members are required to show their legal or court paperwork to leaders within the gang when they got in trouble with the law.
They said that Holland Police also recorded 49 contacts with Morales that were related to Latin Kings gang activity.
The alleged treasurer for the Holland Latin Kings, Joseph Menchaca, was also accused by federal agents in court of participating in the Latin Kings organization.
They said they found a ledger in his home along with around $175 which indicated he was collecting dues for the Holland Latin Kings.
Agents said Menchaca also attended Latin King meetings and was part of the gang’s activities involving cocaine and marijuana distribution.
Agents say text messages also proved he was the treasurer. They said like many other Holland Latin King Members, she showed his affiliation with the gang with tattoos including a one and seven on his neck indicating he was from the 17th Street East Side Latin Kings chapter.
They also alleged Menchaca didn’t grow up along the Lakeshore, saying he moved to West Michigan from Texas in a town that agents say serves as a cocaine route to Holland for the Latin Kings.
They say it was also the source of at least one stolen weapon used in a crime by alleged fellow gang member Julio Hernandez.
Menchaca’s defense attorney challenged the government’s claims saying there wasn’t proof he was a member of the Latin Kings during the mentioned time period.
They asked for bond, saying the 27-year-old was a family man with two children and another baby on the way.
He was employed at Johnson Controls as a welder, working six days a week and his defense attorney said he had no violent criminal history except for a burglary charge out of Texas.
Federal agents counteracted by saying they believed he was a flight risk and backed up claims on a number of the defendants listed in the indictment with information coming from a former gang leader, Desi Amaro.
Agents said he pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges Wednesday and was cooperating with authorities.
They indicated he had been moved out of Michigan for his safety.
The judge denied Morales and Menchaca bond and said they should be detained for their safety and the safety of the Holland community.
Agents testified in court gang graffiti had increased dramatically in the Holland area indicating violence may be intended toward police and rival gang members since the 31 men were listed in the indictment.