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Beneath Sylmar's Surface: Drug Menace

September 30, 1989|JOHN JOHNSON and MICHAEL CONNELLY | Times Staff Writers

The 12800 block of Bradley Street in Sylmar is a nondescript industrial park--a Coca-Cola bottling plant on one side of the street, a firm that makes pacemakers on the other side and several small warehouse businesses mixed in between.

It remained that way until Friday morning, when teams of law enforcement officials swarmed into the building at 12898 Bradley St.

The largest drug cache in history, an estimated 20 tons of cocaine, and $10 million in cash were surrounded by dozens of investigators from at least five police departments and three federal agencies. Television vans, their antenna dishes cranked upward, descended on Bradley Street, disgorging cameramen and reporters.

Seemed Out of Place

At first glance, the sudden appearance of burly SWAT team members armed with automatic weapons seemed out of place in a community nestled against the Angeles National Forest. Horses still trot down Sylmar sidewalks, and empty lots abound.

But Sylmar is changing rapidly. For five years running, Sylmar has been Los Angeles' fastest-growing community, according to Los Angeles city planners. Its abundance of open space is viewed by planners as the last frontier for developers of residential and industrial properties.

Sylmar's reputation as a quiet enclave may be more historic than real. A condominium used as a drug laboratory exploded in May. Three Sylmar brothers pleaded guilty to killing a man over drugs in February. Last year, an anonymous tip led to seizure of 886 pounds of cocaine from a Sylmar home. And a plainclothes Los Angeles policeman was killed there in May, 1988, by South-Central gang members involved in a drug deal.

New Business

It was two years ago that a new business moved into Adriana's Pottery Warehouse.

Most of the people who work in the offices and other warehouses on Bradley Street were not fazed by the comings and goings of the employees of the new company. They assumed it was a legitimate business. Nothing seemed amiss.

But for a few others, Friday's raid confirmed long-held suspicions. The company, they noticed, had few customers and fewer salesmen. Its operations were secretive and disruptive to other firms in the complex.

"It didn't seem like a good business," said David Barron, the owner of a construction company that worked out of an adjacent warehouse. "They said they were dealing in paintings, velvet paintings. I didn't see a market for that in California."

'Too Well-Dressed'

But he added that "they seemed to be making an awful lot of money. They were too well-dressed to operate a warehouse business."

Other employees at the warehouse complex described frequent truck deliveries--as often as once a week in the last six months--to Adriana's. The deliveries often disrupted the other businesses. Long trailer trucks had to back up through the complex to unload at Adriana's, a tedious process observers said took as long as 45 minutes each time.

To accomplish the maneuver, employees from Adriana's went to the other warehouses and asked neighbors to move their cars.

At first, one construction employee said, they were polite about asking that cars be moved.

But their requests turned into demands. "I got to get my truck out now," the employee remembered one man from Adriana's saying.

Deliveries Might Increase

He said that he and other business operators in the complex discussed taking Adriana's to court or complaining to police about the inconveniences--particularly after the Adriana's truck driver informed them recently that deliveries might increase to two times a week.

The activities at Adriana's caught the eyes of others outside the complex as well. At Marketon, a garment bag manufacturer next to the complex, foreman Cleo Mosley said he often noticed trailer trucks being unloaded with a forklift.

"Just boxes" were unloaded, he said. "I never knew what was in the boxes. Sometimes the truck came in every other week."

Times staff writer Amy Pyle contributed to this story.

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