US Department of Justice
LOS ANGELES – A joint federal-state law enforcement operation this morning led to the arrest of 27 people linked to a Lennox street gang, 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. Some of those taken into custody today 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.
Today’s operation involved nearly 500 law enforcement personnel and is the result of 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 federal indictment that led to this morning’s takedown focuses on Lennox 13, a street gang that was 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, 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 this morning);
- 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 last one local business (arrested this morning);
- Marco Ruiz Nario, also known as “Tony” and “Sniper,” 34, of Lawndale, a Lennox 13 member who allegedly supplied cocaine to the gang (arrested this morning);
- 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, a Lennox 13 members who allegedly assaulted innocent citizens on behalf of the gang (arrested this morning);
- Elena Martinez, 55, of Hawthorne, who owns a Lennox 13 hangout called The Den in Hawthorne and allegedly distributed cocaine and methamphetamine (arrested this morning);
- Donald Salazar, Jr., 45, of Inglewood, who allegedly distributed methamphetamine (arrested this morning);
- 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 members who allegedly distributed methamphetamine (arrested this morning);
- Robert Velardez, 26, of Gardena, an alleged methamphetamine distributor (arrested this morning);
- 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 this morning).
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, Drug Enforcement Administration, Los Angeles Field Division. “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.”
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 this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles. Federal prosecutors intent to file writs to take into custody the two defendants named in the federal indictment who are currently in state custody.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
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.”
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 with the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation, 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.
“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, ICE 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.”
In addition to the participants on the Southern California Drug Task Force, the following agencies participated in this morning’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.