LOS ANGELES - A joint federal-state law enforcement operation Wednesday morning led to the arrest of 27 people linked to a Los Angeles-area street gang known as Lennox 13, some of whom are named in a federal racketeering indictment that alleges the gang is a criminal enterprise that has engaged in violent crimes, extortion and narcotics trafficking.
A number of those taken into custody Wednesday face federal charges, others will be presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office for prosecution on various offenses, and some are allegedly illegal immigrants who face criminal prosecution and deportation.
Wednesday's operation involved nearly 500 law enforcement personnel, including agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations, and resulted from an 18-month investigation by the federal Southern California Drug Task Force and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The centerpiece of the investigation is an 11-count indictment that alleges violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The indictment charges 15 defendants, with six of those being named in the RICO count. Nine of the defendants named in the RICO indictment were taken into custody this morning, and two were already in state custody.
Additionally, authorities arrested one woman on a federal weapons charge, eight on state narcotics charges, five on probation violations, two on federal criminal charges of illegal re-entry after deportation, and two on suspicion of being illegal aliens.
The investigation into Lennox 13 was conducted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department - Gang and Narcotics Enforcement Team and the Southern California Drug Task Force, which includes special agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and IRS - Criminal Investigation. The Southern California Drug Task Force operates within the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, which is designed to enhance and coordinate efforts among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
The federal indictment that led to Wednesday's takedown focuses on Lennox 13, a street gang formed in the mid-1960s by Mexican-Americans in the Lennox area of unincorporated Los Angeles County. Lennox 13 now consists of approximately 650 members, with approximately 250 members regularly conducting criminal activities. The "13" stands for the letter M and was added to the gang's name about 20 years ago when it became associated with the Mexican Mafia.
The indictment alleges that drug sales comprised the bulk of the gang's profits. In the gang's territory, just east of Los Angeles International Airport, narcotics were typically sold by street-level dealers who were allowed to sell drugs within the gang's territory if they paid regular "rent" or "tax" to the gang. In exchange for the tax payments, Lennox 13 members protected the drug dealers from robbers and competitors. The indictment also alleges that the gang generated money through routine extortions of legitimate business owners operating in territory claimed by Lennox 13.
The gang allegedly paid a tax to the Mexican Mafia, which provided protection to Lennox 13 members in the prison system. In addition to the tax paid to the Mexican Mafia, the indictment alleges that the gang used the profits of its illegal activities to purchase weapons and drugs, pay attorney's fees for gang members who have been charged with crimes, contribute to funeral costs for gang members who have been killed, and deposit money into the prison accounts of incarcerated gang members.
The RICO conspiracy charge in the indictment alleges a series of specific overt acts, including assaults and narcotics transactions.
Those named in the RICO indictment are:
- Miguel Estrada, also known as "Stranger," 42, of Hawthorne, Calif., a Lennox 13 shot-caller who allegedly was directly involved in drug sales, tax collections and extortion of at least one local business (currently a fugitive);
- Baldemiro Ulloa, also known as "Pana," 53, of Lennox, a Lennox 13 shot-caller who allegedly was directly involved in narcotics sales (arrested Wednesday);
- Cesar Facio, also known as "Tamal," 34, of Lennox, a Lennox 13 member who allegedly distributed cocaine and methamphetamine, collected taxes from drug dealers and was involved in the extortion of at least one local business (arrested Wednesday);
- Marco Ruiz Nario, also known as "Tony" and "Sniper," 34, of Lawndale, Calif., a Lennox 13 member who allegedly supplied cocaine to the gang (arrested Wednesday);
- Jose Manuel Gonzalez, also known as "Cyclone," 37, of Hawthorne, a Lennox 13 member who allegedly engaged in violent crimes on behalf of the gang (previously taken into state custody);
- Cesar Enrique Barreiro, also known as "Weasel," 24, of Hawthorne, a Lennox 13 member who allegedly participated with Gonzalez in robberies and assaults (previously taken into state custody);
- Jorge Arturo Hercules, also known as "Joker" and "Trouble," 25, of Westmont, Calif., a Lennox 13 members who allegedly assaulted innocent citizens on behalf of the gang (arrested Wednesday);
- Elena Martinez, 55, of Hawthorne, who owns a Lennox 13 hangout called The Den in Hawthorne and allegedly distributed cocaine and methamphetamine (arrested Wednesday);
- Donald Salazar, Jr., 45, of Inglewood, Calif., who allegedly distributed methamphetamine (arrested Wednesday);
- Alejandro Sepulveda Armenta, also known as "Trini," 43, of Hawthorne, who allegedly provided methamphetamine to the gang (currently a fugitive);
- Santiago Larios Rodriguez, 36, of South Los Angeles, who allegedly supplied the gang with methamphetamine (currently a fugitive);
- Joe Martinez, also known as "Scrappy," 27, of Lennox, a Lennox 13 member who allegedly distributed methamphetamine (arrested Wednesday);
- Robert Velardez, 26, of Gardena, an alleged methamphetamine distributor (arrested Wednesday);
- Maria Hernandez, 51, of Lennox, an alleged narcotics distributor (currently a fugitive); and
- Dante Hurtado, 47, of Hawthorne, who allegedly sold narcotics out of a Lennox barbershop where Lennox 13 members congregated (arrested Wednesday).
Estrada, Ulloa, Facio, Nario, Gonzalez and Barreiro are the six defendants named in the RICO count. The indictment also alleges a series of drug offenses and several violent crimes in aid of racketeering.
"The drug-related violence of street gangs continues to inflict devastation in many of our communities," said Timothy J. Landrum, special agent in charge for the Los Angeles Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration. "Today's arrests demonstrate the positive results that can be achieved when law enforcement works together. The DEA is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to ensure fewer drugs and the violence associated with street gangs impact our neighborhoods."
Captain Ralph Ornelas, of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Narcotics Bureau, stated: "This collaboration of federal, state and local agencies once again proves how much we can accomplish in the fight against gangs like Lennox 13. Because gang violence isn't confined to one jurisdiction or community, it is important that each agency work together to better the quality of life for all the surrounding cities and neighborhoods."
"Today's joint operation has dealt a serious blow to a ruthless and dangerous street gang operating here in the Los Angeles area," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles. "Working with our law enforcement partners, HSI will continue to target and dismantle these gangs to rid our streets not only of drug dealers, but of the violence and other criminal activity associated with the drug trade."
Those charged in the RICO count face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Twelve of the defendants named in the indictment face 10-year mandatory minimum penalties if they are convicted of charged narcotics offenses.
Those taken into custody this morning on federal charges will be arraigned Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Federal prosecutors intend to file writs to take into custody the two defendants named in the federal indictment who are currently in state custody.
The RICO indictment also includes a criminal forfeiture count, which will allow authorities to forfeit all property and money associated with the offenses alleged in the racketeering conspiracy charge.
"Gang crime and gang violence reduce the quality of life in our communities," said IRS - Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Leslie P. DeMarco. "Today's takedown of the Lennox 13 street gang is indicative of law enforcement's resolve to investigate and prosecute those criminals who use violence and intimidation in promoting and protecting their criminal enterprises. In conjunction with our law enforcement partners, IRS - Criminal Investigation follows the money trail to financially disrupt and dismantle racketeering and narcotics trafficking organizations. We hit the bad guys where it hurts - in their wallets - by taking away their assets and profits."
In addition to the participants on the Southern California Drug Task Force, the following agencies participated in Wednesday's takedown: the United States Marshals Service; the Los Angeles County Probation Department; and three units with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department - Operation Safe Streets, Homicide Gang Task Force and Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS); the La Verne Police Department, the Monrovia Police Department, the Glendora Police Department, the Hawthorne Police Department, the Irwindale Police Department and the Los Angeles Department of Children Services.