LOS ANGELES – The lead defendant in a federal RICO indictment that was brought as part of the nation’s largest-ever gang sweep was sentenced today to 30 years in federal prison for helping coordinate the racketeering activities of the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens street gang and distributing large quantities of narcotics.
George Manuel Flores, also known as Boxer, 43, was sentenced by United States District Judge Dale S. Fischer, who is presiding over the 57-defendant racketeering indictment that was the centerpiece of “Operation Knock Out” in 2009.
Flores was the lead defendant in the RICO indictment, a longtime member of the Hawaiian Gardens gang, and a sometimes “shot-caller” who was able to issue orders to other gang members and collect “taxes” from drug dealers.
Flores pleaded guilty on March 26, 2010 to five counts: racketeering conspiracy; conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute crack cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana; two counts of possession with the intent to distribute heroin; and being a felon in possession of ammunition.
In court documents filed in relation to today’s sentencing hearing, prosecutors pointed out that Flores was a longtime drug dealer, who was “a blight on the city of Hawaiian Gardens. For over a decade, [Flores] ran what are fairly described as several illegal drug ‘supermarkets’ from houses in Hawaiian Gardens that were open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at which his customers could buy the drug of their choice.”
In relation to the narcotics conspiracy count to which he pleaded guilty, Flores specifically admitted that he was responsible for the distribution of more than 30 kilograms of heroin, more than 4.5 kilograms of crack cocaine, more than 1.5 kilograms of pure methamphetamine, more than 15 kilograms of narcotics that contained methamphetamine, and more than 100 kilograms of marijuana.
“Mr. Flores was a leader in a criminal enterprise that tormented the City of Hawaiian Gardens for decades,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “The law-abiding residents of Hawaiian Gardens deserve safe neighborhoods, and this prosecution will go a long way toward restoring order to a community that what once under the thumb of criminal thugs and drug dealers.”
The racketeering case of United States v. Flores, et al. was one of seven multi-defendant indictments issued by federal grand juries. During Operation Knock Out, authorities seized approximately 33 pounds of methamphetamine, additionally quantities of other narcotics and approximately 125 firearms.
“This is a perfect example of how federal laws can be used to impact gang crime,” said John A. Torres, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Los Angeles Field Division. “Flores’ sentencing today in federal court is the final nail in the coffin for these gang members who prey on the weak and defenseless. The neighborhood of Hawaiian Gardens is much safer with Flores in prison for a long, long time.”
The investigation into the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens (VHG) gang began after the fatal shooting of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Ortiz, who was gunned down on June 24, 2005 by a gang member he was attempting to arrest on suspicion of shooting an African-American man. While the gang member, Jose Orozco, was quickly apprehended and currently sits on death row, the shooting of Deputy Ortiz sparked an investigation that culminated with two takedowns in 2009 that saw approximately 170 gang members and associates being taken into custody on federal charges (See: http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/pressroom/pr2009/065.html and http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/pressroom/pr2009/081.html).
Steven Martinez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles, said: “The prosecution of VHG members ensure they no longer pose a threat to residents of the Hawaiian Gardens community, in which Flores and his gang associates formerly thrived. The prosecution also renders justice for the family of deputy Jerry Ortiz, whose senseless death was not forgotten.”
Some defendants charged as a result of the investigation are awaiting trial, but many have pleaded guilty, with sentences as long as nearly 25 years in prison being imposed. Some of the significant sentences include:
* Marcos Romero, also known as Tortas, 45, was sentenced on November 22, 2010 to 291 months in prison, which is running consecutively to a nearly four-year sentence he has already served on a federal immigration charge. According to sentencing papers filed by the government, Romero was one of the primary wholesalers of narcotics to the Hawaiian Gardens gang members.
* Brian Viramontes, also known as Looney, 36, was sentenced on September 13, 2010 to 210 months in federal prison. Viramontes, who was a shot caller in the gang, pleaded guilty to distributing methamphetamine and possessing a firearm in relation to his drug trafficking activities (see: http://www.atf.gov/press/releases/2010/09/091410-la-varrio-hawaiian-gardens-member-sentenced-on-drugs-firearms.html ).
* Edward Solarzano, also known as Little Turtle, 32, was sentenced on November 29, 2010 to 188 months in prison after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy and drug trafficking conspiracy.
* Frank Wayne Henley, also known as Spanky, 40, was sentenced on November 1, 2010 to 262 months in prison. According to court documents, Henley is a member of the Nazi Low Riders, who supplied members of the Hawaiian Gardens gang with methamphetamine and heroin.
Operation Knock Out was an investigation into Varrio Hawaiian Gardens conducted by the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force, which is comprised of agents and officers with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; and IRS – Criminal Investigation.
Timothy J. Landrum, DEA Special Agent in Charge in Los Angeles, commented:
“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message that DEA will to continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure that those responsible for propagating violence and distress in our neighborhoods are brought to justice.”
Leslie P. DeMarco, Special Agent in Charge of IRS – Criminal Investigation’s Los Angeles Field Office, stated: “Today’s sentencing of Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang member George Flores to 30 years in federal prison demonstrates that crime does not pay. Flores’ sentencing brings to a close this chapter in the history of the community of Hawaiian Gardens and is representative of the successful implementation of federal laws in the investigation and prosecution of gang crime.”
Claude Arnold, Special Agent in Charge for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles, said: “The 30-year sentence for Mr. Flores should serve as a stern warning about the consequences awaiting gang members whose actions breed fear and violence in our communities. ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations will continue to work closely with its federal and local law enforcement counterparts to attack and dismantle these dangerous criminal organizations and see that those involved are brought to justice.”
CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Michael Lowe
Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force