Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Drew Street Clica’


In Crime, Gangs, Guns, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime on April 1, 2009 at 11:29 am

“If someone bothers you, you talk to someone in the neighborhood,” said Bobby, illuminating how deeply Drew Street had fallen into gangster hands. “If someone stole from you, it would be handled. It was like a neighborhood watch. We don’t call the cops. We beat up people.”

From, “Drew Street Drug House Demolished; Creepily, some neighbors miss the gang’s terror, a Neighborhood Watch of sorts,” By Christine Pelisek.

Innovative Los Angeles Program Targeted, Took Down Drew Street Gang Fortress Known as "Satellite House"

Innovative Los Angeles Program Targeted, Took Down Drew Street Gang Fortress Known as "Satellite House"

People in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Glassell Park called the house at 3304 Drew Street “The Satellite House.”  The antennae sprouting from the roof were a symbol of drug-trafficking affluence in a graffiti-scarred area hanging on by its fingernails.  Like the  colonial headquarters of an occupying power, it was Government House for the Drew Street clica of the Avenues Gang.

According to Los Angeles law enforcement officials and a federal indictment, the Avenues Gang and its Drew Street clique are affiliated with the powerful Mexican Mafia prison gang, which in turn is plugged into the transnational network of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations.  (See Part One).   Los Angeles-bred Gangs like the Avenues, MS-13, 18th Street, and others around the nation (like the Latin Kings and Barrio Azteca) are today’s organized crime, the “mafia on steroids” someone quipped–a burgeoning force that is richer, more heavily-armed, more wired into global criminal networks than La Cosa Nostra in its best days.  They’re operating in Canada, for crying out loud!  It may not look this way at the level of some baggy-pants mope with bad teeth on a street corner moving little packets of mind-worming dope.  But that pimply-faced gangster is a soldado, a foot soldier, in a vast army of crime.  The new gangsters and their racketeering organizations defy national borders.  They love law enforcement organizations that are trapped in static thinking generated by organization charts and “stove-pipes” of “responsibility” and “mission statements.” (“That’s not in our lane,” I recently heard a senior federal law enforcement official say.  Your lane?  You need to retire–lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way, dude!)

Flexible, adaptive, smarter-than-you-think and often operating in ad hoc networks, transnational criminals operate at will throughout the Western Hemisphere, with growing tentacles to Africa and Europe.

It Was Personal With Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo (Center) -- Avenues Gangsters Harassed Him as a Kid. Delgadillo is Flanked by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William Bratton

It Was Personal With Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo (Center) -- Avenues Gangsters Harassed Him as a Kid. Delgadillo is Flanked by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William Bratton

At every level — from the street corner to the Western Hemisphere — gangs and the bigger criminal enterprises they are wired into raise a fundamental question: who’s in charge here?  Who rules this turf?  The legitimate government or the gangsters?  It is a serious mistake to underestimate the territorial mentality of the new gangsters, their assertion of the artifacts of sovereignty, and their willingness to confront civil government violently.

The Drew Street gang experience has been an almost perfect laboratory in which to see this concept of territorial confrontation at work.  The neighborhood (see map) it which the Avenues clique operated is boxed in, virtually sealed off,  by a cemetery, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, and a freeway.  Like many of the gang-tortured neighborhoods of the New World, Glassell Park was once affluent and quiet, an area of single-family homes.  But change seeped in — including immigration (legal and otherwise) from Mexico — and it went downhill.  Public housing apartment blocs that government planners and social engineers dreamed up turned into gangster strong points, bunkers into which the thugs could fade, invulnerable to police action.

Maria "Chata" Leon, Alleged Gangster, Mother of 13, Immigrated Illegally from Tlachapa, Mexico, Live in Satellite House

Maria "Chata" Leon, Alleged Gangster, Mother of 13, Immigrated Illegally from Tlachapa, Mexico, Lived in Satellite House

Satellite House was the home of a woman named Maria “Chata” Leon, an undocumented immigrant from Tlachapa, Guerrero, Mexico.  According to police, Leon ran the gang’s operations out of the house along with a brood of sons, relatives, and gangsters.  (Leon is said to have given birth to 13 children fathered by various men while she was accumulating a series of felony arrests and convictions dating back to 1992.)  The gang’s writ was so strong that in February 2008, LA Weekly ran an article titled “The Gangsters of Drew Street, Glassell Park — Why neither God nor the police can stop them.”

But while it may have looked like the gangsters had defeated even God (or at least LAPD), Los Angeles officials and law enforcement officers had already mounted a concerted attack on the Drew Street gang and its perverse rule.

In the first place, Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo has been a leader in devising ways to use civil law as a powerful complementary force to law enforcement efforts against gangs.  These ways include injunctions, lawsuits to collect money damages from gangs, and notably in this case a program known as TOUGH (Taking Out Urban Gang Headquarters) program. TOUGH is based on the “nuisance abatement” theory of civil law. The program “files lawsuits seeking aggressive and specifically tailored injunctive relief against property owners and gang members, including stay away orders, closure of properties, hiring of security guards, installation of video camera systems and other remedial improvements to the properties.”
 In 2007, Delgadillo and his team won a lawsuit filed in 2005 that closed Satellite House as a “nuisance” and–after further legal manuevering–led to its ultimately being demolished by a bulldozer.

Danny Leon Was Killed Brandishing an AK-47 in Shootout With LAPD

Danny Leon Was Killed Brandishing an AK-47 in Shootout With LAPD

Before the house was finally taken down, however, an episode of blatant gangster violence in February 2008 generated a maximum law enforcement investigative effort against the gang.  Avenues gangsters shot to death a 36-year old man as he was walking his 2-year old granddaughter near an elementary school. Shortly later, when the gangsters were confronted by LAPD police officers, they opened fire on the cops and a running gun battle ensued. One of Maria’s sons, Danny Leon, opened up with an AK-47 rifle. He was killed by return fire and his cousin, Jose Gomez, 18, was wounded and later charged with murder and attempted murder.

The incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back. “When you shoot at my police officers, all bets are off,” Police Chief William Bratton later said. A joint local and federal  HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) task force zeroed in on the gang.  That eventually resulted in a RICO indictment. Trial in that case is now pending, so all involved are –but, of course– entitled in court to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.  You can draw your own conclusions.

Meanwhile, the question of who’s-in-charge-here has been answered. Concerted, creative, and cooperative effort by legitimate government has smacked down the Drew Street gang–at least for now. The gang weed is deeply rooted and resilient.


In Corruption, Crime, Gangs, Guns, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime on March 28, 2009 at 7:59 pm

“These days the narcos think nothing of killing us for no reason other than marking their territory,” one police commander said after seeing fellow officers murdered.

Police Commander Murdered in Mexico City

Police Commander Murdered in Mexico City

From, “Firepower and Bloodshed: Houston’s Underworld Connection with Mexican Drug Cartels, ” by Clarence Walker, The New Criminologist.

In the end the war between civilization and gangsters comes down to one question.  Who rules?  Whose “marker” prevails?

I had occasion recently to hear the former governor of a Mexican state describe how the relationships among the drug trafficking criminal enterprises, the legitimate government of the state, and political geography had changed over the last decade or so.  He is a man with painfully earned insight.

In the old days, he explained, criminals only wanted safe passage to do whatever they did.  So corruption was pervasive but ephemeral.  The criminals would bribe as necessity dictated:  a customs officer here, a police chief there, another official elsewhere in order to make possible a specific transaction or set of events.  The corrupted officials would look the other way.  Drugs would move from point A to point B without hassle, and life went on.

The difference now, he explained, has several dimensions:

  • The criminals now want to contest the legitimate government for total control of territory.
  • Within that territory, they want to preempt the traditional roles of government and enterprise.  They want to tax, administer “justice,” take over profitable business enterprises, and control the people as their subjects.
  • Criminal factions — such as DTOs — battle with each other for control of territory, regardless of who or what is technically sovereign.

If the criminals can seize total or effective control of the law enforcement function (public safety, enforcement of the rules of civil society) the battle is over.  They win. There is a spectrum of ways and means in which the security/law enforcement function (if not the bureaucratic structure) can be co-opted to criminality.

One way is to seize physical control by corruption or intimidation — members of the criminal enterprise actually hold office, or they can pay or frighten legitimate office holders into acting as surrogates of the criminals.  The latter process is known as “plata o plomo” (silver or lead) in Mexico.  It is in effect the axis about which revolves President Felipe Calderon’s fight to destroy the power of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations.  Here is a succinct description from a longer pre-Calderon but informative discourse:

The necessary involvement of police officials at the local, state, and national levels, and the Mexican military, complicates the battle over turf. Corruption pollutes well-intentioned policemen and soldiers. The law of “plata o plomo,” a choice between accepting a job on a criminal payroll or accepting a bullet in the head, perennially compromises members of the Mexican security forces at all levels…Millions of dollars a year land in the hands of policemen, intelligence agents, mayors, port masters, pilots, and many other officials who face the infamous “plata o plomo” decision.

Mexican feathers are ruffled when the matter is put so bluntly.  It is what it is.  Some serious law enforcement officials in the U.S. worry that half of the equation — the plata — is already here.  If the plata is here, can the plomo be far behind?  Not yet.  And perhaps never on a significant scale.  Cop-killers in the United States tend to have short life expectancies.  But this germ may be incubating.  If the narcos win in Mexico, count on it — all aspects of their putrescence will ooze north, where they have already established substantial logistical and administrative operations in a number of cities.

"HXCXR" = "Harbor City Rifa (Rules)" According to This Source

"HXCXR" = "Harbor City Rifa (Rules)" According to This Source

Another way is to drive legitimate authority out of certain areas, establishing “no-go” zones where the state theoretically still rules, but the cops can or will enter only with a show of extraordinary force.

The final way is to establish a shadow government — let the pinche cops drive through and make an occasional sweep, but the people know that we’re always here, so we rule anyway.  The graffiti of Latino criminal street gangs often includes the letter “R” or the word “rifa” (“rules”) — a leg-lifting marker aimed at other gangs — and at least implicitly at legitimate sovereign authority.

In the United States, by the way, some gangs and gangsters have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams by NOT fighting the power.  They co-opted legitimate authority by conning government circles.  Chicago is famous for having provided a culture in the late 1960s and early 1970s in which its current “super-gangs” rooted, were nurtured with government cash. More recently, in Los Angeles Hector “Big Weasel” Marroquin represented himself as a “reformed” 18th Street gangster.  He established a group called “No Guns.” Its staff is said to have consisted mostly of his own family members.  Here is how the authoritative blog “In the Hat” sums up the effect of Marroquin‘s post-reformation career:

Marroquin has basically been shoved down the throats of gang cops by their commanders for years as a person they should work with to quell gang violence and divert young people from the life.

Hector "Big Weasel" Marroquin Back in the Slam After Conning L.A.'s Kumbaya Krowd

Hector "Big Weasel" Marroquin Back in the Slam After Conning L.A.'s Kumbaya Krowd

But it turns out Marroquin was not so reformed after all! Busted by ATF last year, “Big Weasel” pleaded  “no contest” to three counts of manufacture, distribution and transport for sale of an unlawful assault weapon.  He was sentenced to eight years in prison.  There is simply no telling what violence “No Guns” was responsible for.

An example of a gang shadow government was the area around MacArthur Park in Los Angeles that I write about in my forthcoming book from the University of Michigan Press (June 2009),  No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement. Mexican Mafia gangster Francisco “Puppet” Martinez bossed the Columbia Lil Cycos clique of the 18th Street Gang from his federal prison cell in the 1990s until the FBI and federal prosecutor Bruce Riordan broke up the party.  But, like the poisonous Chinaberry tree, gangs “can form dense thickets that crowd out native vegetation.” They are “poisonous to humans and small mammals… [and] multiple treatments are usually necessary to successfully eradicate” them.  Some eradication is still going on, I am told.

Few gangs in the United States have succeeded in totally controlling territory.  But the Drew Street clica of the Avenues Gang came close.  An excellent NPR radio story linked here describes how bad things had gotten — it’s a little over four minutes long and well worth listening to.

Gangster Tools:  Table-O-Guns Seized in Joint Task Force Raid on Drew Street Clique

Gangster Tools: Table-O-Guns Seized in Joint Task Force Raid on Drew Street Clique

This excerpt from a federal RICO indictment  — in the case of United States v. Francisco (“Pancho”) Real, United States District Court for the Central District of California, docket no. CR08-00688, filed June 12, 2008 — handed down against Drew Street and its members provides basic information about the Avenues Gang and the Drew Street clique.  Note how the gang asserted “sovereign” control over territory and even plotted to violently confront law enforcement:

The Avenues gang is a multi-generational street gang that was formed in the 1940s and claims..[a defined area] as its “territory” in Northeast Los Angeles.  The Avenues Gang is divided into a number of smaller groups, or “cliques,” based on geography and associations in the neighborhood controlled by the gang…

The Avenues gang has been traditionally loyal and committed to “Mexican Mafia,” also known as “La Eme.”  Avenues leaders frequently extort money from local drug traffickers, members of other gangs, prostitutes, residents, and persons who maintain businesses in the area controlled by the gang.  Avenues gang members also frequently intimidate, threaten and assault persons in the area as a means to intimidate and control the people in their neighborhoods, including potential witnesses who would testify about their crimes.  Their crimes typically include acts of violence, ranging from battery to murder, drug-trafficking offenses, witness intimidation, alien smuggling, weapons-trafficking and, very frequently, hate crimes directed against African-American persons who might attempt to reside or be present in the ares controlled by the gang.  Members frequently conduct robberies to generate funds for the larger organization and Avenues hierarchy.

The Drew Street gang is a recently formed clique with the Avenues gang.  The Drew Street gang is part of the Avenues gang, and it authorized by the Avenues and the Mexican Mafia (aka, “La Eme”) to control the area of Northeast Los Angeles in the neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Drew Street and Estara Avenue.
Members of the Drew Street gang enforce the authority of the gang to commit its crimes by directing acts of violence and retaliation against non-compliant drug-traffickers and rival gang members.  The organization also directs attacks against law enforcement officers and witnesses who would be willing to cooperate with law enforcement for the prosecution of the crimes committed by members of the Drew Street gang….The Drew Street gang ordinarily is vigilant to the presence of “outsiders,” or persons not immediately known to the gang, who may intentionally or inadvertently attempt to enter the territory controlled by the gang.  Gang members are likely to identify such persons and physically threaten or kill them.

Los Angeles city and law enforcement authorities finally had enough and moved in on the gangster empire with a “holistic” approaching, mobilizing a range of forces in a pincer movement and frontal assault to erase the gang’s dense thicket of poisonous power. 

Fairly Civil will describe that in the next posting about the Drew Street gang.



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