By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The daughter of an imprisoned Mexican Mafia kingpin who prosecutors say carried out her father's orders in running a brutal Los Angeles street gang, the Harpys, was arrested on Thursday along with her husband and 16 other accused gang members.
Vianna Roman, 37, was taken into custody on a federal grand jury racketeering indictment that accuses her of being the day-to-day leader of the Harpys, acting on instructions from her father, Danny Roman, despite his incarceration in northern California's super-maximum-security Pelican Bay State Prison.
"Vianna Roman acted as her father's surrogate, controlling the gang on behalf of Danny Roman while he was locked away at Pelican Bay," Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Barron, the lead prosecutor in the case, told Reuters in an interview.
"She participated in conspiracy to murder, oversaw drug sales and generally controlled the gang for her father," Barron said of the woman also known as "V," "Old Girl," "Prima" and "Female Cousin."
Her husband, Aaron Soto, 40, was also charged with being a leader of the Harpys, also known as the Harpys Dead End gang, along with Manuel Valencia, 36.
"Danny Roman was able to control his territory through Vianna Roman, Aaron Soto and Manuel Valencia and other leaders acting under them and they have all been arrested as of today," Barron said.
Danny Roman, who is not charged in the indictment, has been serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole since his 1984 conviction for first-degree murder.
Pelican Bay is the state's most-secure prison, housing inmates deemed among the state's worst. Civil rights activists have sued over its special high-security unit designed for gang members that they say violates human rights.
Vianna Roman was hospitalized following her arrest because she complained of chest pains and was not in court for a detention hearing in the case on Thursday, Barron said. She was expected to make her initial court appearance on Friday.
Of the 17 other defendants arrested on Thursday, 16, including Soto and Valencia, were ordered held without bail pending trial and one was released on bond, Barron said.
Defense attorneys for Soto and Valencia could not be reached for comment by Reuters on Thursday afternoon. Because Roman missed court she has not yet been appointed a lawyer.
The 60-count indictment, handed down in U.S. District Court in November, charges a total of 29 people with federal racketeering, conspiracy, drug and firearms offenses. Two other defendants were named in separate indictments.
Of the 31 defendants, 18 were arrested on Thursday, eight were already in custody and five remain at large.
"This is a gang that committed acts of violence including murder, that extorted money from businesses and enforced the extortions with threats violence and murder, that oversaw the sale of large amounts of drugs and guns and that oversaw the acts of violence committed by gangs," Barron said.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Eric Beech and Lisa Shumaker)