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57 Held as Pomona Gang Is Targeted

Multi-agency sweep comes two years after a wannabe murdered a Highway Patrol officer.

April 25, 2006|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

Two years after a CHP officer was gunned down by a teenager trying to impress a notorious Pomona gang, state and local authorities arrested 57 people linked to the gang's alleged drug trafficking, gun buys and street violence, officials said Monday.

The arrests in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, targeting the 12th Street Pomona gang also known as the Sharkies, were the result of a yearlong investigation dubbed Operation Fishnet that involved telephone wiretaps, informants and undercover agents, state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said.

"These criminal enterprises destroy communities and shatter innocent lives with their evolving criminal tactics," Lockyer said. "Through the hard work of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, we are committed to taking back the streets."

The investigation was launched after California Highway Patrol Officer Thomas J. Steiner was shot and killed outside a Pomona courthouse in April 2004 by a 16-year-old who told police he was trying to prove himself to the 12th Street gang.

Valentino Arenas told authorities he was not targeting Steiner, a 35-year-old father of two from Long Beach, but that he wanted to shoot any lawman he could find.

Arenas pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at the California Institution for Men in Chino. Because of Arenas' age, he was not eligible for the death penalty.

"I sincerely hope the arrests resulting from this investigation bring a sense of justice to the Steiner family and relief from fear and intimidation to the citizens of Pomona," Will Telish, director of the Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force, said in a statement.

Charges ranged from conspiracy to commit murder to weapons and drug-related violations. Authorities also seized 6 pounds of methamphetamine, 18 pounds of methamphetamine ice, 14 grams of cocaine, 36 grams of heroin and $23,000, along with dozens of firearms, including an AK-47.

Those arrested ranged from ages 22 to 49 and included several females. Authorities are still searching for eight additional suspects.

Almost 30 agencies were involved in the gang sweep, including the Pomona Police Department, the state Department of Justice and Steiner's agency, the CHP.

"It seems like it was just yesterday when [Steiner's] death took place," Pomona Police Chief James M. Lewis said. "We want to send a message to the gangs that they are going to pay a price, and to the youth, that these people are not acceptable role models."

The Legislature decided in January to rename a stretch of the Pomona Freeway, from Phillips Ranch Road through Reservoir Street, after Steiner, a Cal Poly Pomona graduate.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said gang crime could be prosecuted and curtailed only with the help of the families of gang members. He added they were in a position to stop the violence before it started.

"It goes without saying there is only so much we can do," Cooley said. "If the families don't help, they are the ones who are, in a sense, aiding and abetting murders in Los Angeles County."

Pomona, a city of nearly 170,000 about 30 miles east of Los Angeles, has long been considered a hotbed of gang activity, where members engage in violent initiation rituals and spirited turf wars. The area was under such duress that mail service was interrupted for more than a year along one neighborhood block after a postal carrier became frightened after witnessing a shooting.

The 12th Street gang -- which has close ties to the Mexican Mafia, one of California's most powerful prison gangs -- uses the shark as its symbol and has spread into western San Bernardino County.

It has about 1,000 active members and associates, with several hundred more in jail or prison, and dates back generations.

The gang's criminal enterprises include large-scale drug trafficking, extortion and murder, authorities said.

Pomona Mayor Norma J. Torres said she viewed the sweep as a step in combating the city's gang violence.

"It's refreshing that there's been a focus on our town because we were neglected for a long time," Torres said. "It's sad that it took the life of a CHP officer, but now we are finally saying enough is enough."

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