Federal bust nets high-powered assault weapons from Bell Gardens gang

Federal authorities showcase some of the guns seized in a home and warehouse in Bell Gardens.  They accused members of the
Federal authorities showcase some of the guns seized in a home and warehouse in Bell Gardens. They accused members of the "Barrio Evil-13" of trafficking large amounts of high powered guns, including AK-47s, Tec-9 sub-machine guns, and handguns equipped with silencers.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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BELL GARDENS - The feds arrested nine members and associates of a Bell Gardens gang in a drug and weapons raid. One of the alleged gangsters claimed to be a hit man for a Mexican drug cartel, federal officials said today.

Agents arrested nine men Thursday following a nine-month investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that targeted the "Barrio Evil 13" street gang, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Agents served search warrants at homes in Bell Gardens and Los Angeles, and at a Bell Gardens warehouse used by the gang to store illegal weapons, according to ICE.

During the searches, agents recovered dozens of high-powered weapons, including assault rifles, handguns, silencers, a shotgun and thousands of rounds of ammunition, ICE reported.

Among the suspects was Henry "Silent" Valenzuela, 27, of Bell Gardens, who allegedly told an ICE undercover investigator that he is a hit man for a Tijuana-based drug cartel.

Valenzuela allegedly tried to recruit the undercover investigator to carry out "hits" in the Los Angeles area for a $10,000 fee, and allegedly claimed to have conducted one such murder in Barstow early this month. Authorities said they have not corroborated Valenzuela's murder claim.

Valenzuela and six other defendants were charged in a federal criminal complaint with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana. The charges carry a possible maximum penalty of life in prison, according to ICE.

The other six defendants facing federal charges were identified as:
-- Sergio "Lil Silent" Calderon, 23, of Bell Gardens;
-- Javier "Padrastro" Avila-Lopez, 40, of Los Angeles;
-- Eduardo Ortega-Plascencia, 39, of Los Angeles;
-- Margarito "Tito" Enciso, 27, of Long Beach;
-- Everado "Lalo" Venegas-Lumbreras, 38, of Bell Gardens; and
-- Silverio Palma-Carlin, 31, of Jalisco, Mexico.

The federal defendants were expected to make their initial appearances in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles today.

Two other defendants were arrested on state drug trafficking charges: Francisco Arellano, 32, and Alfredo Rutillo-Medina, 27, both of Nayarit, Mexico.

Assisting with Thursday's arrests were the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department; the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services; and officers from the Bell, Huntington Park, Vernon and Long Beach police departments.

"The gang members and associates charged in this criminal complaint are alleged to have trafficked not just in drugs, but in weapons," Acting U.S. Attorney George S. Cardona said in a statement.

"And not just any weapons, but weapons clearly intended for criminal conduct, including an AK-47 assault rifle, a Tec-9 sub-machine gun, a MAC-11 sub-machine gun and a sawed-off shotgun," Cardona said.

"The arrests made yesterday eliminate a source of firearms that would otherwise be out on the streets being used to commit additional violent crimes," Cardona said.