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DEA Carries Out Largest Gang Bust in U.S. History

LOS ANGELES - In the nation’s largest-ever gang sweep, approximately 1,400 law enforcement officers swept across the City of Hawaiian Gardens Friday to arrest scores of people named in a federal RICO indictment that describes a war against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, as well as systematic efforts to rid the community of African-Americans with a campaign of shootings and other attacks.

The investigation into the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang began after the fatal shooting of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Ortiz, who was gunned down by a gang member he was attempting to arrest on suspicion of shooting an African-American man. While the gang member, Jose Orozco, was quickly apprehended and currently sits on death row, the shooting of Deputy Ortiz sparked an investigation that culminated with today’s takedown that has dealt a severe blow to the gang that has terrorized Hawaiian Gardens for approximately 50 years.

During today’s enforcement action, which was part of “Operation Knock Out,” 88 defendants were arrested. Those arrested today are among 147 defendants named in five federal indictments, which include the racketeering case and related indictments that allege drug trafficking conspiracies.

“Today's arrests send a message to those who are responsible for bringing violence and distress onto the streets of Los Angeles, that law enforcement is working together to take back our neighborhoods and get violent drug traffickers and street gangs out of our communities,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Timothy J. Landrum.

In addition to the murder of Deputy Ortiz, the racketeering indictment discusses other violent attacks, drug trafficking, carjackings and kidnappings. For example, George Manuel Flores, the lead defendant in the RICO indictment and a longtime member of the Hawaiian Gardens gang, allegedly ordered the murder of another gang member who was believed to be cooperating with law enforcement and Flores allegedly provided a young gang member with a weapon and instructed him to shoot African-Americans who lived nearby.

“The centerpiece of Operation Knock Out is a 193-page racketeering indictment that outlines the operation of the Hawaiian Gardens gang,” said United States Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien. “This indictment charges 57 members and associates of the gang and alleges violations of the federal RICO statute – the same law that we used to knock out the mafia and which has been used with great success in recent years to dismantle other criminal gangs in Southern California. One of the most disturbing elements of the case is the gang's avowed hatred of African-Americans, a racism so pervasive that the gang also referred to itself as a ‘hate gang.’”

LASD Assistant Sheriff Paul Tanaka stated: “Jerry Ortiz was an outstanding deputy sheriff and a good family man who was murdered by a cowardly Hawaiian Gardens gang member. The senseless murder of Deputy Ortiz brought new-found attention to the fact that this multi-generational gang had been terrorizing neighborhoods, running drugs and committing violent crimes for many years. The primary purpose of Operation Knock Out was to make the community a safer place for all those who had suffered under the oppressive reign of this gang. May Deputy Ortiz rest in peace.”

Below is a breakdown of the cases brought as part of Operation Knock Out:

  • United States v. Flores, et al., this is the racketeering indictment that was returned by a federal grand jury on May 6. This indictment charges 57 defendants. Out of the 57 defendants in this indictment, 21 are already in custody and 36 were subject to arrest today.
  • United States v. Henley, et al., CR 09-332, which was indicted on April 8. This case charges 20 defendants linked to the Hawaiian Gardens gang, 13 of whom where subject to arrest today, in a scheme to distribute crack cocaine, heroin, powder cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana. Four of the defendants in this case are already in custody. Three of the defendants have yet to be identified.
  • United States v. Barajas, et al., which charges 20 defendants in a superseding indictment returned on April 8. In this case, two defendants are already in custody and five defendants, three of whom are believed to be in Mexico, have not been fully identified. Therefore, 13 of the defendants in this narcotics case were subject to arrest today.
  • United States v. Sotelo, et al., which was indicted on April 29. This indictment charges 21 members of the Hawaiian Gardens gang, two of whom are already in custody and two of whom have not been fully identified, in a wide-ranging conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Seventeen defendants in this indictment were subject to arrest today.
  • United States v. Ramirez, et al., a 29-defendant indictment that was returned on May 14. Out of the 29 defendants accused of conspiring to distribute a variety of narcotics, 25 were subject to arrest today as four are already in custody.

The defendants arrested will appear in federal court in both Los Angeles and Santa Ana. If convicted of the charges alleged in the indictments, all of the defendant face mandatory minimum sentences and approximately 15 defendants face mandatory sentences of life without parole.

During the course of the investigation, law enforcement seized 88 guns. “We took some very violent criminals off of the streets today and seized the tools of their trade – firearms,” said John A. Torres, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF’s Los Angeles Field Division. “ATF will now continue the process of tracing these firearms and targeting those who illegally supplied them to these ruthless gang members.”

“Today's enforcement operations mark the beginning of the end of the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens street gang,” said Leslie P. DeMarco, Special Agent in Charge of IRS - Criminal Investigation's Los Angeles Field Office. “As a part of the HIDTA task force, IRS - Criminal Investigation specializes in following the money in illegal narcotic and criminal racketeering operations, with the intent to financially disrupt and dismantle these organizations, enabling increased criminal prosecutions and asset forfeitures.”


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