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Immigration authorities seize high powered guns from LA 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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Federal authorities Friday announced the seizure of a large cache of high-powered firearms in Southern California. It’s another example of how easy it is to get illegal weapons in the region.

Frank Stoltze: An agent with the special response team of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, Jeremy Scott, showed off the catch at a downtown federal building.

Jeremy Scott: You'll see a kind of a mixture of handguns as well as shotguns and assault rifles.

Stoltze: He points to an AR-15 style assault rifle with a short barrel for easy concealment, a long barrel rifle with a halo-graphic scope for long range killing, and a small Mac-11.

Scott: Its only design is to put out mass amounts of small caliber rounds, large volume of fire, very sporadic, very hard to aim. It’s only made to do just pure death.

Stoltze: It's a sub-machine gun.

After a nine-month investigation, federal agents worked with local police to seize nearly 50 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition from two houses and a warehouse in Bell Gardens. Scott said an uncover informant posed as a gun buyer.

Scott: The informant that we were using in this case was not an actual law enforcement officer. He was a confidential informant. He works for ICE. It’s not his full time job. But it’s a position that he used and we use him on occasion when there's a role that he kinda fits. He's kind of a niche character and this niche he was able to fill.

Stoltze: Kevin Kozak is also a special agent with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, whose special gang enforcement unit discovered the gun trafficking operation.

Kevin Kozak: It’s a very significant series of arrests and seizures for us because we had identified a gang that was operating under the radar for the last couple of years and wasn’t really brought to the attention of either local or federal law enforcement.

Stoltze: Kozak said that gang was the “Barrio Evil-13” in South L.A. Agents arrested nine members and associates – one with possible ties south of the border.

Kozak: One of the defendants, Valenzuela, did claim that he represented a Mexican drug cartel based out of Tijuana and was a hit man for them here in the United States.

Stoltze: Kozak said the gang also dealt illegal drugs, and had M-16s for sale. Those are standard issue in the U.S. military.

Kozak: One of the defendants did in fact claim that he had a connection in the military and we're concerned about that and working with appropriate authorities to determine if in fact he had a source that would perhaps supply him with stolen military weapons.

Stoltze: Kozak said the gang could have brought some of the guns from another state with gun laws that are more lax than California’s. As for their destination: likely Southland streets and possibly Mexican drug cartels.

Bell city Police Chief Randy Adams, whose department assisted in the investigation, said he’s relieved to have rounded up these weapons. He added that many more assault-style guns are on the streets, and people are using them.

Randy Adams: For instance, one example of a shooting that we had in Bell about three weeks ago involved some individuals who were peacefully congregated out in front of their house – car drove by. These individuals get out of the car, sneak up on them and open up on them with military-grade type weapons, and it was lucky we didn’t have a triple homicide.

Stoltze: The shooting wounded three people.

Adams said his officers will examine whether any of the guns agents seized were used in the shooting.