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Life terms for Mexican gang members who dissolved bodies in lye

September 28, 2012 |  1:30 pm

Two members of a Mexican criminal gang that employed Tijuana-style violence against rivals in San Diego were sentenced Friday to life terms in prison for taking part in the strangling deaths of two men whose bodies were later dissolved in lye.

David Valencia and Jose Olivera Beritan, both mid-level members of The Palillos, or Toothpicks, received multiple life terms without the possibility of parole at their sentencing hearing in downtown San Diego.

They were found guilty in May for their roles in the murders of two men who were lured to a house under the guise of a drug deal. Olivera was also convicted of taking part in the murder of another man whose body was left in a trunk.

The Palillos splintered from the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix drug cartel in 2003 and moved across the border, seeking vengeance by targeting cartel members for murder or kidnap and ransom schemes.

Valencia, a Tijuana native, was responsible for finding victims. Olivera guarded stash houses used to hold victims. From 2004 to 2007, gang members allegedly murdered nine people and attempted to kill a Chula Vista police officer by firing high-caliber rounds into his vehicle.

The toothpicks moniker came from gang members’ habit of scattering toothpicks next to victims. Jorge Rojas, the alleged gang leader, is scheduled to go on trial in November. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

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-- Richard Marosi in San Diego

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