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Woman linked to drug activity arrested

April 16, 2008|Sam Quinones and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

Maria "Chata" Leon, an illegal immigrant whose former Glassell Park home police said was for years the center of neighborhood drug activity, was arrested by federal agents Tuesday, authorities said.

Leon, 44, was charged in federal court with illegally reentering the country, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, said Lori Haley, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Leon, who was arrested in front of her former Drew Street home, has been convicted on felony drug, firearms and child endangerment charges in three cases dating to 1992, according to court records. She has also been deported to Mexico twice, Haley said.

On April 9, after an ICE investigation, a federal magistrate issued a warrant for Leon's arrest.

"Those who show complete contempt for our laws and our borders face serious consequences," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of ICE investigations in Los Angeles. "ICE is using all of the tools at its disposal to protect communities from gang members and gang associates who leave a trail of crime and tragedy in their wake."

Los Angeles police officials hailed the arrest of Leon.

"She's a major problem for the area and hopefully she won't be back again," said Capt. Bill Murphy of the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division.

A native of Guerrero, Mexico, Leon in the past told court and probation agents that she sold gold jewelry door to door and for a time received welfare.

But the mother of 13 had a lengthy arrest record and three convictions for drug-related crimes, according to police and court records. She has been arrested at least 14 times since 1985.

During one raid at her house in 2002, police arrested Leon and found cocaine, marijuana, a Tec-9 assault weapon, ammunition, a small explosive and a cellphone that was ringing with customers' drug orders, according to court records. Also in the house were six children under 10, including Leon's youngest child, a 3-month-old boy.

An older son, Jose Leon, pleaded guilty to possession of drugs for sale in connection with the case and was sentenced to four years in prison. Maria Leon pleaded guilty to child endangerment and possession of an assault weapon and was sentenced to six years for child endangerment. She was given credit for 259 days served and turned over to federal immigration authorities.

Last year, the Los Angeles city attorney's office successfully sued to close her house as a public nuisance. Leon and some of her family had moved to Victorville, but L.A. police believe she was still a force in the neighborhood's drug trade.

In February, her son Daniel, 22, was killed in a shootout with undercover LAPD officers. Recently released from prison, he and his cousin Jose Gomez, along with two others were suspected of moments earlier fatally shooting a man in a Cypress Park neighborhood, about a mile from Drew Street.

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sam.quinones@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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