Azusa gang tied to Mexican Mafia faces federal charges

A suspect has
A suspect has "Azusa Canyon City" tattooed on the back of his head as members of a Azusa, Calif. gang are processed following an early-morning raid, at the at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, Calif., Tuesday, June 7, 2011. The Latino gang conspired to rid the Southern California city of its black residents through threats and violence dating back to the early 1990s, according to an indictment.
AP Photo/Jason Redmond

AZUSA - More than 50 alleged members of an Azusa gang affiliated with the Mexican Mafia - accused of using violence to rid the city of blacks - have been indicted by a federal grand jury, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced today.

Varrio Azusa 13 was formed in the 1960s and now allegedly has more than 400 members. The charges outline a nearly 20-year conspiracy to violate the civil rights of blacks in the city.

The indictment alleges members of the gang ``taxed'' other drug dealers in the area and passed on the money at the direction of the prison-based Mexican Mafia.

``This gang has waged a campaign of hate during a two-decade crime spree in which African Americans were harassed and attacked,'' U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said. ``There was clear evidence of racial animus.''

A Los Angeles federal grand jury returned a 24-count indictment last week that charges a total of 51 defendants with a variety of crimes, including conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, and conspiracy to violate the civil rights of blacks.

Along with 23 defendants in custody, law enforcement officials early today arrested 16 alleged Azusa 13 gang members. Authorities sought 12 named defendants, federal officials said.

While federal prosecutors have alleged race-based violence in gang raids before, the case against Azusa 13 is only the second time that civil rights laws have been used against gang members, Birotte said.

In 1992, the Azusa gang adopted a racist principle ``that members of the gang will harass and use violence to drive African Americans out of the city of Azusa and would use violence in order to prevent African Americans from moving into the City,'' according to the indictment.

Six defendants are charged in the civil rights conspiracy, which alleges a series of crimes in which blacks were harassed through racist graffiti and subjected to beatings and robberies.

The race-based crimes alleged in the indictment span a period from 1992 until May 2010, when a black high school student was attacked as he walked home from school.

``We hope that this federal case will signal the end of this racist behavior and will help vindicate all of the victims who have suffered over the years,'' Birotte said.

The 27 defendants charged in the RICO count face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Nearly all of the 51 people named in the indictment face 10-year mandatory minimum penalties if convicted of charged narcotics offenses, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reema El-Amamy said.

``Today, we remember the victims of hate crimes and their families,'' Azusa police Chief Robert Garcia said. ``Crimes based upon hatred are intolerable in our society and represent the worst in human behavior. Human beings who victimize others simply because of their race are criminals who will be punished.''

The Azusa 13 gang simply ``did not want an African American presence in Azusa,'' Garcia said.

In addition to the RICO charge and the civil rights conspiracy count, the indictment alleges a long-running conspiracy to distribute heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine.

The gang developed a ``business plan'' that outlined methods by which the gang would control the drug trade in Azusa, according to the indictment.

Under the plan, Azusa 13 sought to ``monopolize the entire drug market in the city of Azusa'' through several means, including maintaining ``top of the line artillery'' and being prepared to kidnap relatives of wayward drug dealers, prosecutors said.

As part of its drug operation, the gang extorted payments from street- level drug dealers in exchange for authorization to conduct business in Azusa 13 territory, prosecutors allege.

The payments -- known as ``rent'' or ``tax'' -- were funneled to members of the Mexican Mafia who exerted control over the gang. The ``13" in the gang's name stands for the letter ``M'' or, in Spanish ``La Eme,'' indicating the group's long affiliation with the Mexican Mafia, prosecutors said.