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Indictment offers harrowing details of L.A. gang's workings

After an infant was mistakenly slain in a shooting, the Mexican Mafia wanted those responsible killed. The shooter, attacked by members of his own gang and left for dead, is now aiding investigators.

June 18, 2009|Scott Glover

When a stray bullet from a gang member's gun struck 3-week-old Luis Angel Garcia in the heart and killed him in 2007, police, politicians and ordinary Angelenos expressed outrage over the infant's death.

But they weren't the only ones.

Members of the Mexican Mafia, the notorious prison-based organization that authorities say controls Latino street gangs, demanded that those responsible be killed, according to an indictment unsealed this week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

The edict, known as a "green light," was aimed at members of the 18th Street gang, who were thought to have killed the baby during a botched attack on a street vendor who'd refused to pay "rent" to conduct business in the gang's territory near MacArthur Park.

Hoping to avoid the Mexican Mafia's wrath, the 18th Streeters decided to take care of the problem themselves, according to authorities. In the days after the baby's slaying, two gang members lured the shooter to Mexico under the false pretense that he was being hidden from police investigating the murder, the indictment states. Once there, they attempted to strangle him and left "him for dead on the side of a road," according to prosecutors.

The shooter, identified in court papers as "unindicted co-conspirator #1," survived the attack and is now cooperating with prosecutors in their pursuit of his former gang.

Though prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office have declined to comment, most of the account was revealed in a 114-page indictment unsealed Tuesday. The document charges about 40 members and associates of the Columbia Lil Cycos -- a clique of the 18th Street gang -- with being involved in a racketeering conspiracy that allegedly involved murder, drug trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping and other crimes. One murder victim was a 22-year-old man who was mistaken for a rival gang member, authorities allege. Also charged in the case was a defense attorney accused of serving as an intermediary between the gang and the Mexican Mafia.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Brian R. Michael said the charges filed against the gang show that it has broadened its activities by taxing not just drug dealers, but also "hard-working folks who are barely making ends meet," such as the street vendor who was attacked.

That the attack was carried out on a street bustling with shoppers, including women and children, represents "a level of violence that, even for this gang, is pretty extraordinary," Michael said.

Identified in the indictment by his initials -- G.M. -- the gang member cooperating with authorities was charged in state court last year with the baby's killing, according to a source close to the case.

That source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the case, said G.M. has been helping both state and federal authorities with their prosecutions of 18th Street gangsters and is being held in protective custody.

Deputy L.A. County Dist. Atty. Victor Avila, the lead prosecutor on the murder case in state court, said six defendants are awaiting trial. Avila declined to comment on whether any plea deals have been offered or accepted.

According to authorities, the gang's intended target in the Sept. 15, 2007, shooting was Francisco Clemente, a 37-year-old street vendor who had been refusing to pay the $50 weekly "rent" that he and others working near the corner of 6th Street and Burlington Avenue were expected to pay gang members.

The alleged shooter, flanked by numerous other gangsters, strode up to Clemente and opened fire at close range, authorities said. Clemente was struck several times in the chest, but survived. The baby, who was in a stroller, was hit by a single bullet and died.

The killings of innocent children and women go against Mexican Mafia rules, in part because they often result in intense police activity and disrupt their criminal enterprises, according to authorities.

The source who asked not to be identified said the gangsters who took G.M. to Mexico tried to strangle him with a rope. When he lost consciousness, they assumed he was dead and rolled him down a steep hillside in a rural area.

When G.M. came to, he contacted family members in Mexico and arranged for them to pick him up, the source said. He was later found by Los Angeles police detectives at an undisclosed location and surrendered.

--

scott.glover@latimes.com

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