LOS ANGELES – A task force investigation into the street gang that has terrorized the Ramona Gardens housing complex in Boyle Heights for decades has resulted in a federal racketeering indictment and the arrest this morning of 25 members and associates of the criminal enterprise.
During a law enforcement operation this morning, approximately 800 agents and officers targeted Big Hazard, a multi-generational street gang that has brought murder, extortion, robbery and other crimes to Boyle Heights for the past 70 years.
The federal indictment charges a total of 38 defendants. In addition to the 25 people arrested this morning, seven defendants were already in custody, authorities are searching for five fugitives, and one defendant was killed this past weekend.
(As a result of this investigation, another five people were indicted on narcotics charges, four of whom defendants were arrested this morning, bringing the total number of federal arrests today to 29).
A 110-page indictment unsealed this morning outlines criminal activity going back to 2007, including dozens of drug deals, acts of intimidation and violence against people believed to have cooperated with law enforcement, illegal weapons sales and threats made against African-American residents of Ramona Gardens, which includes tagging with phrases such as “no blacks.”
The Hazard gang takes its name from a park near Ramona Gardens and is currently believed to have approximately 350 members. Much of the conduct is alleged in a racketeering charge that outlines a conspiracy to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which federal authorities in Los Angeles have successfully used for two decades to battle prison gangs and street gangs.
“All of the gang’s operations were done under the umbrella of intimidation – making threats and then committing acts of violence against rival gangsters, law-abiding members of the community and Hazard gang members who might be cooperating with authorities,” said Acting United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura. “The intimidation and threats extended to African-American residents of Ramona Gardens. In stark and simple messages delivered in person and through graffiti, the Hazard gang made it clear that black residents were not welcome in the neighborhood that it claimed to control.”
The gang’s main business is drug trafficking, according to the indictment, which details more than three dozen narcotics transactions involving as much as nearly one-half pound of methamphetamine. To conceal this business and expand its territory, Hazard members take steps to prevent law enforcement from infiltrating its activities, steps that include CCTV surveillance at drug houses, making bogus complaints about police officers in an attempt to have them moved to patrol other areas of Los Angeles, and threatening and assaulting local residents who cooperate with law enforcement.
The Hazard gang is closely aligned with the Mexican Mafia, and many members of the prison gang have come from Hazard. The lead defendant in the 45-count indictment is Manuel Larry Jackson, also known as “Cricket,” a Mexican Mafia member who oversees the activities of the Hazard gang. The indictment alleges that under Jackson’s control, the gang commits a wide variety of crimes, most significantly drug trafficking, which generates revenues through the sale of narcotics and the “taxing” of drug dealers who operate in Hazard territory. Some of the revenues generated through “taxes” or “rent” are funneled back to Jackson and other members of the Mexican Mafia.
“Calling yourself a ‘taxing’ authority gets the attention of the Internal Revenue Service,” said IRS Criminal Investigation’s Special Agent in Charge Erick Martinez.
“The role of IRS Criminal Investigation in narcotics investigations is to follow the money so we can financially disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations. Undermining the financial infrastructure of narcotics trafficking organizations has proven to be one of the most effective means to disrupt the market for illegal drugs.”
The federal indictment that led to this morning’s takedown charges a total of 38 defendants (although one of those defendants was killed this past weekend). Including Jackson, 29 of the defendants are charged in a racketeering conspiracy count that outlines activities of the gang, its allegiance to the Mexican Mafia and the various tactics it employs to impose fear in the community. The indictment also alleges several violent acts in aid of racketeering, about three dozen narcotics offenses and several crimes related to the illegal possession of firearms.
“Because of defendant Jackson’s power as a Mexican Mafia member and his connection to Hazard, Hazard members and associates have unique authority to engage in criminal activities, such as the sales of drugs and firearms outside of Hazard territory without the risk of violent reprisal that Latino gang members ordinarily would suffer for engaging in such criminal activities in territories controlled by other Latino gangs,” according to the indictment, which alleges that the gang “is continually engaged in the distribution of methamphetamine, phencyclidine (PCP), cocaine, cocaine base in the form of crack cocaine, heroin, and other controlled substances.”
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
Nearly all of the defendants are charged in the RICO count and/or a drug trafficking conspiracy, each of which carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. The maximum statutory penalty for those convicted of those counts would be life without parole.
The investigation into the Hazard gang was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Los Angeles Police Department; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and IRS – Criminal Investigation, which worked in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Alhambra Police Department.