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Transnational Gangs

9 men tied to LA-area gang arrested in ICE drug, weapons trafficking probe

One defendant claims to be Mexican drug cartel hit man

LOS ANGELES - Nine members and associates of a South Los Angeles street gang, including one claiming to be a hit man for a Mexican drug cartel, are in custody on federal drug trafficking and state weapons charges following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The defendants were arrested yesterday at residences in Bell Gardens and Los Angeles by agents assigned to ICE's Special Response Teams. During the operation, agents executed search warrants at those residences as well as at a Bell Gardens warehouse used by the organization to store illegal weapons. During the searches, agents recovered dozens of high-powered weapons, including assault rifles, handguns, silencers, a shotgun and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Providing assistance with yesterday's operation were the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, and officers from the Bell, Huntington Park, Vernon and Long Beach police departments.

The enforcement action caps a nine-month ICE investigation into allegations that members of the "Barrio Evil 13" street gang were involved in narcotics and weapons trafficking. The affidavit filed in support of the arrest and search warrants details more than a dozen occasions where the defendants sold an ICE undercover operative illegal drugs, including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as ammunition and firearms. Among the weapons purchased by ICE undercover operatives were assault rifles, sawed-off shotguns, a sub-machine gun and a hand grenade, which turned out to be inert.

"The gang members and associates charged in this criminal complaint are alleged to have trafficked not just in drugs, but in weapons, and not just any weapons, but weapons clearly intended for criminal conduct, including an AK-47 assault rifle, a Tec-9 sub-machinegun, a MAC-11 sub-machinegun, and a sawed-off shotgun," said Acting U.S. Attorney George S. Cardona. "The arrests made yesterday eliminate a source of firearms that would otherwise be out on the streets being used to commit additional violent crimes."

One of the defendants arrested yesterday, Henry "Silent" Valenzuela, 27, of Bell Gardens, Calif., told an ICE undercover operative during the investigation that he is a hit man for a Tijuana-based drug cartel. The case affidavit contains excerpts from a secretly recorded conversation where Valenzuela seeks to recruit the undercover operative to carry out "hits" in the Los Angeles area for a $10,000 fee. In that conversation, Valenzuela claims he conducted a "hit" in Barstow, Calif., in early September and has six murder-for-hire contracts outstanding. So far, ICE has been unable to corroborate Valenzuela's murder claim.

"Given the allegations, this street gang's name 'Barrio Evil' is particularly appropriate," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles. "When you have members of a criminal organization casually selling high-powered weapons and talking matter-of-factly about murder, you have a serious public safety threat. ICE is using every legal tool and every resource at its disposal to protect our communities from these dangerous organizations."

"We took a number of high caliber firearms out of the hands of gang members whom we allege used them to further their criminal enterprise," said John A. Torres, special agent in charge of ATF's Los Angeles Field Division. "ATF will now trace these firearms and complete ballistics comparisons to determine where they came from and whether they are related to other crimes."

Currently, seven of the defendants are charged by federal criminal complaint with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. The federal defendants will make their initial appearances in U.S. District Court here today. In addition to Valenzuela, they are:

  • Sergio Calderon, aka "Lil Silent," 23, of Bell Gardens;
  • Javier Avila-Lopez, aka "Padrastro," 40, of Los Angeles;
  • Eduardo Ortega-Plascencia, 39, of Los Angeles;
  • Margarito Enciso, aka "Tito," 27, of Long Beach;
  • Everado Venegas-Lumbreras, aka "Lalo," 38, of Bell Gardens; and
  • Silverio Palma-Carlin, 31, of Jalisco, Mexico.

Two other defendants were taken into custody yesterday on state charges. They are:

  • Francisco Arellano, 32, of Nayarit, Mexico; and
  • Alfredo Rutillo-Medina, 27, of Nayarit, Mexico.

ICE received significant assistance with this investigation from the Bell Police Department, as well as from ATF and several other local law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles, Vernon and Long Beach police departments.

"We're thrilled about the results of this joint operation," said Bell Police Chief Randy G. Adams. "As a result of our efforts, we've kept countless dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals, saving untold lives in the process."

The investigation into the Barrio Evil 13 street gang is part of an ongoing initiative by ICE's National Gang Unit called Operation Community Shield. Through Operation Community Shield, ICE is using its powerful immigration and customs authorities in a coordinated, national campaign against criminal street gangs in the United States. Since Operation Community Shield began in February 2005, ICE agents nationwide have arrested more than 13,000 gang members and associates linked to more than 900 different gangs. More than 150 of those arrested were gang leaders.