08/02/2006

LAPD plan worked: Four area gang members convicted of hate crimes

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES- Four members of a Hispanic gang were convicted Tuesday of conspiring to use violence to push blacks out of their neighborhood, after federal prosecutors targeted the gang with laws normally used to prosecute white supremacist groups.

All four were found to have caused the death of a black man shot while parking his car in 1999 and a man shot while standing at a bus stop in 2000 in the largely Hispanic city of Highland Park, east of Los Angeles.

Convicted were Gilbert "Lucky" Saldana, 27; Alejandro "Bird" Martinez, 28; Porfirio "Dreamer" Avila, 31; and Fernando "Sneaky" Cazares, 26. Saldana and Avila are already serving life sentences in state prison.

For a guilty verdict, jurors had to find that the attacks were part of a conspiracy to violate the victims' right to live where they pleased and to use state-administered facilities, including public streets.

Justice Department attorney Bobbi Bernstein had asked the jury to send a message that America does not tolerate racial violence.

Defense attorneys claimed police concocted the conspiracy charges by tying together random attacks committed largely by unknown perpetrators.

The four face life in prison without parole. Sentencing is to begin Oct. 23.

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