A judge found sufficient evidence Monday to move a conspiracy to commit murder case against members of a notorious Richmond gang to trial, authorities said.

At the end of a preliminary hearing Monday, nine gang members were held to answer on several counts of conspiracy to commit murder with gang enhancements, said Richmond police Sgt. Nicole Abetkov. If found guilty, each of the defendants could face 25 years in prison.

The case stems from a two-month wiretap program in 2013 code-named "Operation Exodus" that targeted members of Deep C, a violent central Richmond gang that has had an ongoing fued with North Richmond gangs, according to police. The taps focused on a subset of the gang, which moved to the Pullman Point Housing Complex on the city's south side around 2011, according to police.

Listening in on five mobile and landline telephones, authorities say they heard suspected gang leader Todd Gillard order killings using phones from inside the county jail, and were able to stop the ordered hits before they occurred, Abetkov said.

In one case, police chased a car they knew was going to be used in a drive-by shooting from Richmond to Sonoma County, arresting four people and recovering several guns. Local, county and federal law enforcement officials announced the arrests of 23 people in August 2013, but ultimately only 10 were charged.

The nine men held to answer Monday were: Brian Johnson, Aaron Smith, Demark Bernstine, Devonte Bernstine, Clarence Ware, Jequerie Proctor, Marlawn Hunt, Derrick Harvey and Bobby McHenry. Gillard will have to return to court because his attorney was not present Monday, authorities said.


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David DeBolt covers breaking news. Contact him in Richmond at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.