LOS ANGELES – Two violent street gangs were targeted in early morning raids this week in what investigators called two separate criminal enterprises involved in drug and gun trafficking, extortion, illegal gambling, racketeering, attempted murder and assault across Los Angeles County.
Federal investigators said more than 50 gang members and associates were targeted in the raids, leading to the arrests of 36 members from the Vineland Boys and Florencia 13 street gangs. Sixteen suspects are still being sought and are considered fugitives as of Wednesday.
The criminal enterprises operated in South Los Angeles and in the San Fernando Valley, according to grand jury indictments unsealed on Wednesday.
Suspects and their alleged illegal businesses were simultaneously seized on by a wave of law enforcement agencies as part of a multi-year investigation.
Prosecutors wheeled out a display of 57 firearms that were seized from the Vineland Boys street gang over the last three years at a press conference Wednesday.
Five indictments charged 45 defendants from the Vineland Boys, who extorted money from drug dealers, assaulted rival gangs in their territory and trafficked guns and drugs, according to investigators.
Several indictments charged 36 members of the Florencia 13 or F13 gang, who tried to smuggle drugs into a California state prison and Los Angeles County Jail. F13 operated in the South Los Angeles area while the Vineland Boys’ enterprise spread across the San Fernando Valley. Multiple members from both gangs face criminal conspiracy and other charges.
According to an 86-page grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday, F13 tried to mail 100 grams of heroin to a Mexican Mafia member in prison. In another indictment, a scheme to sell methamphetamine out of a hookah lounge is detailed and in a third indictment, two felon members of the gang were charged with being in possession of an AK-47-type rifle.
Prosecutors said F13 was controlled by members of the Mexican Mafia who issued orders from within state and federal prisons.
Leonel Laredo, 47, aka “Wizard” is named as the lead defendant in the RICO indictment. Multiple suspects and two unindicted co-conspirators are also named, but prosecutors said even though Laredo is serving a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole in Texas, he continues to issue orders to the F13 gang.
F13 also operated “casitas” or illegal gambling parlors in their territory. Those were run from homes and involved prostitution and illegal gun sales, according to Los Angeles Police Captain Michael Rimkunas.
Investigators served search warrants at one of the “casitas” earlier this week and seized more than 30 slot machines, drugs and a rifle and ammunition.
“Three and a half years is a long time, but it’s well worth it,” Rimkunas said.
The Vineland Boys, meanwhile, first came to the police’s attention 14 years ago when a member of the gang murdered Burbank police officer Matthew Pavelka in 2003.
Law enforcement subsequently severely disrupted the Vineland Boys with a series of federal indictments that resulted in more than four dozen convictions and led to two defendants receiving sentences of life without parole in federal prison.
“Our first attack on this street gang dealt punishing blow to its operations and sent a message that law enforcement would not tolerate their violent acts and drug trafficking,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna in a statement. “Unfortunately, a new generation of gangsters has come of age and tried to revive the organization’s control of drug trafficking through violence. This takedown will provide significant relief to the law-abiding residents of the east San Fernando Valley, and it sends a strong message to the gang that we will continue our efforts to crush their organization until they no longer pose any threat.”
Since then, the gang was involved in a shooting in April 2016 and through that investigation, police learned the gang members were heavily armed and trafficked illegal guns. One non-gang member allegedly made “ghost guns” – AR-15-type guns that have no serial numbers – that were sold to gang members and used in crimes.
Multiple indictments charge 14 other defendants with supplying meth to the Vineland Boys. The gang is alleged to have used code words to make extortion runs or make illegal gun sales.
LAPD Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher said the Vineland Boys’ operations will be disrupted by this week’s actions from law enforcement. Pitcher said the gang “plagued” the San Fernando Valley with violence, murders and shootings.
Twenty-five members of the F13 gang and Vineland Boys were charged Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court with RICO Act violations, violent acts in aid of racketeering, felon in possession of a firearm, drug trafficking and other charges.
In addition to the today’s arrests, 11 defendants were already in custody. Authorities are continuing to search for nine fugitives, four of whom are believed to be currently in Mexico.
The investigation targeting the Vineland Boys was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Los Angeles Police Department.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer Chou of the Violent and Organized Crime Section.