From the Los Angeles Times:
May 21, 2009
LOS ANGELES -- Federal authorities on Thursday accused a Los Angeles County street gang of a litany of crimes, including the murder of a LA County sheriff's deputy and racially motivated attacks designed to drive blacks from their town.
The charges, part of a massive racketeering case, were outlined in several indictments charging 147 members and associates of the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang with murder, attempted murder, drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, extortion, kidnapping and witness intimidation.
The gang, also known as VHG, is so pervasive in Hawaiian Gardens that one in 15 people living in the one-square-mile city about 25 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles has ties to it, said Sal Hernandez, the FBI's top agent in Los Angeles.
"Imagine living in a community where one in every 15 of your neighbors swears allegiance to an organization committed to the spread of violence," Hernandez said. "The good people deserve to live in peace."
The probe into the gang began in 2005 after Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Jerry Ortiz was fatally shot by a Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang member he was trying to arrest in connection with the shooting of a black man. The shooter, a veteran gang member with devil horns tattooed on his forehead, has since been convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien, speaking at a news conference Thursday, touted the case as the "largest gang takedown in United States history."
"Today we honor Deputy Ortiz by coming together to crush the outlaw gang that took his life and make a positive difference for the law-abiding people who live in Hawaiian Gardens," said O'Brien, who spoke in front of a memorial to Ortiz and other officers killed in the line of duty.
Authorities said the gang was formed in the 1950s or early '60s and today has more than 1,000 members spanning several generations, many of them with connections to the Mexican Mafia. The gang started out with street robberies, drug dealing and turf wars with other gangs but has since escalated its level of violence, authorities allege. The gang is accused of taunting law enforcement with particularly brazen acts, including scrawling "187," the California penal code designation for homicide, on a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department patrol car in 2006. Authorities interpreted the vandalism as a reference to Ortiz's killing a year earlier.
The gang members, with monikers of Slasher, Shady, Diablo and Menace, boasted about being racist, referring to themselves as "The Hate Gang," according to a 193-page indictment that outlines the racketeering case.
"VHG gang members have expressed a desire to rid the city of Hawaiian Gardens of all African Americans and have engaged in a systematic effort to achieve that result by perpetrating crimes against" them, the document states.
The indictment details 476 "overt acts" gang members allegedly committed as part of the racketeering conspiracy between 1996 and 2009. The alleged crimes include the dealing of methamphetamine, heroin and crack and the slaying of a fellow gang member suspected of cooperating with law enforcement.
The document also details more than a dozen incidents in which blacks were allegedly beaten, shot at or harassed because of their race. In one incident, a gang member is accused of using a racial epithet against a black man, yelling at him to "get out of town," then attacking him with a garden rake.
The indictment states that one gang member was heard bragging about the slaying of deputy Ortiz, saying the killing of a cop had put the gang "back on the map."
About 1,400 local, state and federal law enforcement officers fanned out across the small, densely populated city just before dawn Thursday, arresting 90 suspected gang members, authorities said. Thirty-five of those charged were already in custody for other alleged crimes; 49 either remain at large or have yet to be identified. During the four-year probe, authorities seized 105 guns and more than 30 pounds of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. The drugs had an estimated street value "worth well over a million dollars," said Timothy J. Landrum, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles.
Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said the number of defendants charged in the case significantly exceeded the 102 defendants charged in a case against the Florencia 13 gang two years ago -- a case prosecutors then said was the biggest of its kind in the nation.
Reaction to Thursday's raid varied.
Hawaiian Gardens Mayor Michael Gomez praised authorities. "The city appreciates the help, both in resources and personnel that we have received in today's anti-gang operation."
"Honest residents should not have to live in fear of lawless thugs who act like it's high noon at the OK Corral," Gomez said.
Barry Bruce, a community activist who attended the news conference at which the arrests were announced, accused authorities of overstating the gang problem in Hawaiian Gardens and of mistreating residents he said were falsely labeled as gang members.
"There are serious violations of civil rights going on in the community," Bruce, who runs an urban outreach program called Way Out Ministries, told reporters. "The police are supposed to follow the law."
Media contact information for Randy Economy and Brian Hews and Los Cerritos Community Newspaper
Thursday, May 21, 2009
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