Five reputed gang members were indicted in federal court Tuesday on charges that they conspired to steal firearms from Southern California gun dealers.
Four of the five were arraigned Tuesday morning in U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter's courtroom. The fifth, named in the indictment as George Batiste Thenarse, was arraigned later Tuesday.
The indictment of the five stems from an investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Los Angeles Police Department in response to what was described by the ATF as an effort to crack down on gun store burglaries, which have increased over the last two years.
ATF agent Brad Galvan, described in a court affidavit as the lead agent with the Main Street Crips Burglary Task Force, said 20 gun stores had been burglarized in Los Angeles and Orange counties since February, 1992, and more than 1,000 guns had been stolen.
Galvan said many of the burglaries "are believed to be perpetrated by organized street gangs."
According to the indictment, the suspects forced open gun-shop doors with pry bars and bolt cutters. The tools were supplied by two of those charged, Michael Lamont Bourgeois, also known as "Lil Mike," and Cedric Gunter, also known as "Ced," the indictment stated.
"Defendants would plan the burglaries of federally licensed firearms dealers ('gun stores') by visiting the business premises of those dealers and recruiting other co-conspirators to participate in the burglaries," the indictment said.
Then, the indictment added, they would return in the night to commit the burglary. Three gun stores were listed in the indictment, including two in Orange County. They were Weatherby's Gun Store in South Gate and the Stockade Gun Store and B & B Sales, both in Westminster.
According to the ATF, the suspects succeeded in taking guns in only one of the three attempted burglaries. The ATF said 101 guns were taken in the Stockade Gun Store burglary.
Besides Thenarse, Bourgeois and Gunter, the other two named in the indictment were identified as La Gene Smith and Sammie Lee Ford.
Thenarse was arrested Tuesday morning. The others were arrested in late May.
Galvan described one incident in April in which Huntington Beach police stopped a car driven by Thenarse, with Bourgeois, Gunter and a fourth man riding as passengers. He said police discovered two flashlights, three pairs of gloves and three pillowcases, along with a pair of large, red commercial bolt cutters, in the trunk.
Thenarse, Bourgeois and Gunter were arrested and detained for possession of burglary tools and were taken into federal custody a week later.