L.A. gang crackdown 'largest in U.S. history'
By Thomas Watkins
LOS ANGELES — A Latino street gang waged a racist campaign to eliminate the city's black residents through attempted murders and other crimes, according to federal racketeering indictments unsealed Thursday.
Five indictments charged a total of 147 members and associates of the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang, and federal and local agencies arrested 63 of them by early Thursday, U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien said at a news conference.
Another 35 defendants were already in custody on unrelated charges. Weapons and drugs worth more than $1 million also were seized in what O'Brien called "the largest gang takedown in United States history."
The indictments detail attempted murder, kidnapping, firearms, narcotics and other charges related to attacks by the gang, which is predominantly Latino and mainly operates in Hawaiian Gardens, a city of about 15,000 in southeastern Los Angeles County.
"(Varrio Hawaiian Gardens) gang members take pride in their racism and often refer to the VHG Gang as the `Hate Gang,'" the main indictment said. "VHG gang members have expressed a desire to rid the city of Hawaiian Gardens of all African-Americans and have engaged in a systematic effort to achieve that result by perpetrating crimes against African-Americans."
The indictment alleges a string of attacks on black residents, including a shooting into a home with eight people inside. The indictment does not say if anyone was hit.
In another instance, two gang members allegedly chased a black man, yelled a racist epithet at him and then beat him with a garden rake. The same man was later repeatedly stabbed by two gang members, according to the indictment, which charged them with his attempted murder.
According to 2000 census data, the latest available, Hawaiian Gardens was roughly 73 percent Hispanic and 4 percent black.
Hawaiian Gardens Mayor Michael Gomez welcomed the crackdown, saying: "Honest residents should not have to live in fear of lawless thugs who act like it's high noon at the OK Corral."
The indictments mark at least the second time in less than two years that federal authorities have accused Latino gang members of attacking black residents because of their race. Local officials have tried to downplay racial tensions.
The investigation of the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang began in June 2005 after the murder of Los Angeles County sheriff's Deputy Luis Gerardo "Jerry" Ortiz. Jose Luis Orozco, a member of the gang, was sentenced to death in 2007 for the killing.
Ortiz, 35, died as he searched for Orozco, who had shot and wounded a man while he did yard work. Orozco was later found guilty of attempted murder in that case.
"It was this hatred of African-Americans that may have spurred the attack on Deputy Jerry Ortiz, who was killed trying to arrest a gang member suspected of trying to shoot an African-American man in the back," O'Brien said.