Multi-agency sweep targets Harbor Area drug, gun traffickers

Dozens of gang members were arrested today as part of a three-year, multi-agency investigation of weapons and drug trafficking in the Harbor Area of Los Angeles.

"As a result of this investigation and enforcement action, we've dismantled an entire drug trafficking network, from the street dealer to the actual supplier,'' said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for the Office of Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles.

"We believe these defendants were responsible for funneling large quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine into our communities,'' he said.

"With today's arrests, we've shut down that potentially deadly supply chain and cut off what was a key source of cash for some of the most ruthless and violent gangs operating in this area.''

The arrests came after a Los Angeles federal grand jury returned six indictments naming 61 defendants, many of them gang members, who allegedly trafficked in firearms and large quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Forty of those facing federal charges are in custody, including 35 arrested today and five who were already behind bars, federal prosecutors said.

Another 21 defendants named in the indictments are still being sought.

In addition to the arrests, federal and local investigators found a meth lab, more than 1.5 pounds of meth, five pounds of marijuana, nearly 100 marijuana plants, more than $20,000 in cash, and four firearms, including a shotgun.

Also, the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office filed a civil "abatement'' lawsuit to shut down alleged drug trafficking activities at a hotel apparently used as a hangout by a Harbor Area gang, federal prosecutors said.

"This collaborative law enforcement action began as an investigation into drug trafficking in Wilmington and expanded into a case that charges members of 10 different street gangs,'' said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.

"A federal grand jury has charged key players involved in the distribution of crack cocaine in Wilmington, large-scale methamphetamine dealers in La Puente, and gun traffickers,'' he said.

The investigation, dubbed "Red Rein,'' stemmed from a 2007 probe called "Ghost Town,'' in which nearly four dozen alleged drug dealers and weapons traffickers in the Wilmington area were arrested.

The current probe targeted cocaine being distributed as crack by two Harbor Area street gangs -- the East Side Pain and Waterfront Piru -- prosecutors said. In doing so, investigators also identified traffickers who
dealt pounds of meth.

One federal indictment charges 40 defendants, many of whom are allegedly affiliated with the Wilmington-based East Side Pain street gang, with participating in a conspiracy to distribute powder cocaine and crack,
prosecutors said.

Using telephone wiretaps, informants and surveillance, investigators determined that gang members were responsible for funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of crack each month onto the streets of the Harbor Area, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The six indictments name members of East Side Wilmas, North Side Wilmas, Harbor City Crips, Compton Avenue Crips, Fruit Town Piru, El Monte Flores and Primera Flats.

Of the 61 charged, 58 face mandatory minimum sentences of either 10 or 20 years in federal prison, prosecutors said.