LOS ANGELES — Ten suspected 18th Street gang members and associates have been indicted on drug and weapons charges in connection with a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) targeting the gang's involvement in methamphetamine and firearms trafficking in South Los Angeles.
Six of the defendants were taken into custody Wednesday morning by HSI special agents. A seventh defendant was already incarcerated on unrelated state charges. Five of the defendants arrested Wednesday made their initial appearance in federal court Wednesday afternoon. The sixth will make his initial appearance Thursday morning. Three of those indicted remain at large.
The defendants are named in eight separate indictments, five of which were unsealed following Wednesday's arrests. Because the three defendants who remain at large are charged in indictments that remain sealed at this time, their names are not being released. Eight of the 10 defendants are charged with trafficking methamphetamine. The remaining two defendants are accused of weapons violations. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.
Wednesday's enforcement actions are the culmination of an HSI probe that began in February 2009. Over the course of the investigation, HSI special agents used undercover purchases of narcotics and firearms to develop evidence about the alleged trafficking activity. To date, the case has led to the seizure of 10 weapons, including a gold-plated AK-47 assault rifle.
Investigators say the defendants identified in the drug and weapons trafficking probe were older gang members who held leadership positions in the organization. Investigators say that, as "shot callers," the defendants played a key role in overseeing the gang's methamphetamine trafficking activities in South Los Angeles. The defendants named in the indictments unsealed Wednesday are:
- Wesley Aaron Arredondo, 27, of Paramount, charged with distribution of methamphetamine; arrested Wednesday;
- Martin Avila, aka "Chino," 43, of Compton, charged with conspiracy and distribution of methamphetamine; arrested Wednesday;
- Edward Diaz, aka "Bouncer," 31, of Los Angeles, charged with distribution of methamphetamine; arrested Wednesday;
- Sharon Paiz, aka "Hyper," 32, of Saugus; charged with distribution of methamphetamine; arrested Wednesday;
- Ricardo Perez, aka "Vago," 31, of Los Angeles; charged with conspiracy and distribution of methamphetamine; self-surrendered Wednesday and will make his initial appearance Thursday;
- Joaquin Saucedo, aka "Sniper," 39, of Hesperia, charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm; and possession of an unregistered firearm, namely a sawed-off shotgun; arrested Wednesday; and
- Aaron Ramos, aka "Droopy," 28, of Los Angeles, charged with conspiracy and distribution of methamphetamine. Ramos is currently in custody on unrelated state charges.
The Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Multi-Agency Response Team (MART), a division of the Los Angeles County Department Division of Children and Family Services, provided substantial assistance with Wednesday's enforcement actions. HSI advises the investigation into the gang's criminal activities is ongoing.
This investigation was part of HSI's Operation Community Shield initiative. Operation Community Shield partners with existing federal, state and local anti-gang efforts to identify violent street gangs and develop intelligence on gang members and associates, gang criminal activities and international movements to arrest, prosecute, imprison and/or deport transnational gang members. HSI's National Gang Unit's goal is to deter, disrupt and dismantle gang operations by tracing and seizing cash, weapons and other assets derived from criminal activities.
Since the inception of Operation Community Shield in February 2005, HSI special agents working in conjunction with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies nationwide have arrested more than 30,000 street gang members and associates linked to more than 2,300 different gangs. More than 390 of those arrested were gang leaders. Through this initiative nationally, HSI has seized more than 4,500 firearms.