Danny Roman was convicted of first degree murder in 1984. He is serving a life sentence at Pelican Bay State Prison, 350 miles north of San Francisco and 700 miles north of his hometown, Los Angeles.
But from his maximum security perch near the Oregon border, federal authorities claim, Roman, an alleged Mexican Mafia member, called the shots for a network of Southern California Sureño gangs. An indictment, unsealed today, charges 29 people with racketeering and conspiracy while working under Roman. The investigation was dubbed "Operation Roman Empire."
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The network of gangs, an organization called the Harpys, first formed in the 1960s and essentially serves as foot soldiers for the Mexican Mafia, the prison gang born in California correctional facilities.
According to the indictment, Roman passed his orders though his daughter, Vianna Roman, and his son-in-law, Aaron Soto. Those two, in turn, would pass the information along to Manuel Valencia, whom the feds call the Harpy's shot-caller.
In addition to charges of drug dealing and violent crimes, the indictment claims that Valencia oversaw the collection of "tax payments from all Hispanic gangs under D. Roman's control." At least one gang under Roman's control, the court filing adds, extorted taxes from vendors at a local swap meet. Harpys also allegedly engaged "in armed robberies of local residents, including students of the University of Southern California."
Roman, and multiple defendants in the indictment, communicated -- in person, through letters, and over the phone -- in coded language, which authorities were apparently able to figure out. Conversation topics ranged from the collection of unpaid taxes to the arrangement of a murder. The court document also shows that the investigation, operating since at least April 2010, utilized at least six confidential informants.
In all, the indictment lists 60 counts.