High-ranking member in one of Merced County’s largest gangs gets 15-to-life in prison

A high-ranking member of an Atwater gang was sentenced this week to 15-years-to-life in prison for his role in the jailhouse stabbing of another inmate, according to a news release.

A Merced County jury returned a guilty verdict in June for premeditated attempted murder against 27-year-old Joaquin Flores and 22-year-old Eric Cruz Madero, according to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.

In a statement released late Friday, prosecutors described Flores as the “highest-ranking gang member in the cell at the time of the attack and provided a knife and instructions to defendant Madero.”

Joaquin Flores, 27, of Atwater.jpg
Joaquin Flores, 27, of Atwater Merced County Sheriff's Office

Prosecutors said Madero used two makeshift knives to repeatedly stab the head, chest and torso of the victim, who was not identified by the District Attorney’s Office. The victim survived his injuries.

Flores is a known leader in the A-Town street gang, the largest Sureno gang in Merced County, according to prosecutors. He was sentenced to an additional 14 years and four months for crimes from 2017, including conspiracy to smuggle drugs into the jail and being a felon and gang member in possession of a firearm.

Flores was sentenced Thursday in Merced County Superior Court. Madero awaits sentencing Aug. 6.

Flores, who goes by the street name “Grizzly,” was one of more than 50 suspected gang members and associates arrested in May 2017 during “Operation Scrapbook.”

An attorney for Flores declined to comment.

Flores, along with Robert Guthrie, Roberto Blancas-Morales, Cesar Corona and Raul Rivera Perez were charged in connection with shootings in March and April 2017.

Eric Cruz Madero, 22, of Merced.jpg
Eric Cruz Madero, 22, of Merced Merced County Sheriff's Office

Madero was already in custody because he is accused of stabbing a man to death in January 2016 at a motel on Sycamore Avenue in Atwater, according to police. That case is still pending.

This story has been corrected from an earlier version. Prosecutors said Madero attacked the victim under instructions from Flores, who also provided Madero with one of the knives.

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.