The federal government announced indictments against 70 members of a Los Angeles street gang Wednesday. The announcement followed pre-dawn raids on the Drew Street gang's neighborhood near Glassell Park, north of downtown. It was the sight of a major shootout just a few months ago. KPCC's Frank Stoltze says more than 500 local and federal law enforcement personnel were involved in the roundup.
Frank Stoltze: The neighborhood encompasses a few square blocks wedged between an industrial area and Forest Lawn Memorial Park just west of the 2 Freeway. Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said the Drew Street gang has controlled the area for three generations.
Rocky Delgadillo: The people who live in this neighborhood are prisoners in their own homes. They drive their kids two blocks to school because they're afraid of the gangs. They won't go outside at night because of the gangs. And today what all of this team did is give a little bit of freedom back to that neighborhood.
Stoltze: Acting on a federal racketeering indictment, LAPD SWAT teams and federal agents served search warrants on two dozen homes and arrested 29 people. The indictment names 71 people on murder, home invasion robbery, and drug dealing charges. Fifty-five are in custody, including a mother and her two sons said to be at the head of the gang.
In the past, local authorities have had a hard time persuading witnesses in the neighborhood to cooperate. The gang is affiliated with the Mexican Mafia prison gang. U.S. Attorney Tom O'Brien said federal authorities started wiretapping the gang in January to get around that problem.
Tom O'Brien: This is about a six month operation with two lawyers taking down 71 people federally. I challenge anyone to show me who else in the United States Attorneys offices throughout the nation are doing anything close to this. And we're not done.
Stoltze: Federal authorities increasingly are using racketeering laws to go after gangs, imposing stiffer penalties in out-of-state prisons where the Mexican Mafia wields less influence. Immigration officials have helped. Bob Schoch of the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement office said the mostly homegrown Drew Street gang took strategic advantage of undocumented immigrants.
Bob Schoch: These individuals were recruiting illegals as spotters, for example, in narcotics sales. And often it was to insulate the gang members.
Stoltze: Tony Rafael wrote the nonfiction book "The Mexican Mafia." It includes details about The Avenues gang, of which Drew Street is a subset.
Tony Rafael: It's definitely the biggest profit center of the Avenues gang. And in terms of the rest of the city, it rates probably among the top ten drug sales areas in the city.
Stoltze: Rafael called Drew Street an open air drug market where gang members regularly sold crack and methamphetamine.
Rafael: The ultimate question is, is this going to put Drew Street out of business? And historically speaking, putting gangs out of business is a very long, difficult process. And they somehow or another always manage to reconstitute themselves.
Stoltze: LAPD Chief Bill Bratton promised the city was committed to fighting the gang, and improving the neighborhood.
Chief Bill Bratton: Enhanced police presence, enhanced community outreach. This was not just a get in and get out. We're in, and we're staying in.
Stoltze: Bratton and others have made that promise before.