By Patrick McGreevy and Richard Winton
The Los Angeles Times
An 18th Street gang member on Los Angeles' Top 10 most wanted list of gangsters has been captured in Guatemala, authorities said Wednesday, the same day they announced that a recent crackdown on gangs has yielded more than 200 arrests in the San Fernando Valley and South L.A.
Angel Zevallos, an 18th Street Westside member known as "Spanky," was captured last Wednesday and deported by Guatemalan authorities to Texas, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said.
Zevallos, who has waived extradition in Texas, was set to be returned to Los Angeles today to face an attempted murder charge in connection with the Feb. 6, 2006, shooting and wounding of a security guard at the Buddha Bar in Hollywood.
"The capture of Angel Zevallos was truly a team effort," Bratton said. "It was impressive to see how quickly this all came together. Interpol inspectors, deputy U.S. marshals in the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala and LAPD detectives worked as if they were across the room, rather than across a continent."
Zevallos was on the list of most wanted gang fugitives announced last month by Los Angeles officials, who also named the 11 worst gangs as part of a law enforcement campaign to reduce gang violence, which increased 15.7% citywide last year.
Bratton on Wednesday said the effort so far was "going very well."
"Ultimately we are looking for two things," he said. "We are looking to reduce membership and we want to reduce violence by those 11 gangs. That's where we think there are indicators of success. Homicides are down. Shootings are down."
So far this year, city homicides were down from last year's 69 to 50 as of Tuesday.
Zevallos was captured after Chief Inspector Wilfredo Ramos, Interpol director in Guatemala, was tipped to his presence during an unrelated kidnapping investigation. The tipster described a tattooed man in Guatemala City who was bragging about a killing in Los Angeles.
The informant, Bratton said, supplied Zevallos' name and two photographs taken with a cellphone. Interpol confirmed that Zevallos, a Peruvian national, had been in Guatemala illegally since December 2006 and then contacted the LAPD. He was apprehended with the help of U.S. marshals based at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City.
Word of Zevallos' capture came as City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo on Wednesday announced a nuisance abatement action against the Baldwin Village apartment complex where one of the worst gangs, the Black P-Stones, had been staying.
"This will rid the Baldwin Village community of a hangout for Black P-Stones," said Delgadillo, who last month took a similar action against an Avenues gang hangout.
Bratton in recent weeks has redeployed more than 200 officers to the gang crackdown. The most obvious effect so far has been in the San Fernando Valley, where hundreds of arrests and stops have been made by a special gang task force of 50 officers who go into high-crime areas, including parts of Van Nuys and North Hollywood.
In the 13 days since the task force began operations, officers have made 259 pedestrian stops and 306 motorist stops as well as 143 misdemeanor arrests and 66 felony arrests for infractions such as narcotics sales and gun possession, Lt. John McMahon, who is in charge of the task force, said Wednesday. Officers also issued 149 traffic citations and seized six guns, he said.
The task force, McMahon said, "has given us the opportunity to take a group of officers who don't have a bunch of ancillary responsibilities, and have them focus on violent high-crime areas."
Bratton targeted the Valley because the greatest increase in Los Angeles gang-related crime occurred there last year, up 42% from the year before.
Another area with an increased police presence is Harbor Gateway, where one of the 11 targeted gangs -- the 204th Street gang -- operates. Members of the predominantly Latino gang are accused of killing a 14-year-old African American girl in a hate crime.
Deputy Chief Charles Beck said that at least 20 members of the gang have been arrested on suspicion of committing felonies in the last two weeks. Five of those were arrested on suspicion of killing one of their own out of fear that he was helping police.
Bratton said the effort to target the worst of the worst gang members, such as Zevallos, will require international coordination with the help of the U.S. Marshals Service.
"A lot of these people, we believe, are out of this country, and those not wanted for murder we have the ability to get back" because they won't face the death penalty, Bratton said.
Extraditing suspects who face death penalties from Central and South American countries as well as from Mexico is often difficult because those governments oppose capital punishment.
With Zevallos behind bars, Bratton on Wednesday replaced him on the most wanted list with Fernando Araujo, a 19-year-old alleged Canoga Park Alabama gang member who is wanted in connection with the Aug. 26, 2006, shooting of a college football player outside a youth center.
Bratton said the motive for the drive-by shooting was believed to be racial because witnesses said they heard racial slurs as shots were fired at the African American victim. Araujo also is implicated in a second drive-by shooting and is a material witness in another shooting, police said.
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Crackdown on LA gangs yields 200 arrests, suspect on Top 10 arrested