Nine members and associates of a Bell Gardens street gang, including a suspected hit man for a Mexican drug cartel, have been arrested on drug trafficking and weapons charges, federal officials said Friday.
The suspects -- six U.S. citizens and three illegal Mexican immigrants -- were arrested Thursday as agents served search warrants in Bell Gardens and Los Angeles, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said. Their arrests culminated a nine-month investigation by the agency of the Barrio Evil 13 street gang.
Several assault weapons, including an AK-47 assault rifle, a Tec-9 submachine gun, a MAC-11 submachine gun and a sawed-off shotgun, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition also were recovered.
"This is a relatively small and newer gang that has been operating with impunity for the last several years," said Kevin Kozak, deputy special agent in charge of ICE's Los Angeles office of investigations. "They have access to significant weapons . . . and claims they can have access to military-grade weapons through a 'friend' in the military."
One of the suspects, Henry "Silent" Valenzuela, 27, of Bell Gardens, told an ICE undercover investigator that he is a hit man for a Tijuana-based drug cartel, Kozak said.
Valenzuela allegedly tried to recruit the officer to carry out "hits" for him in the Los Angeles area for a $10,000 fee, Kozak said.
Bell Police Chief Randy G. Adams, whose department worked on the investigation, said he hopes the arrests will help solve other crimes in the community. "Gangs know no geographic boundary," he said. "Removing these weapons from the streets helps all of us in southeast Los Angeles feel safer."
Others arrested include Sergio Calderon, 23, and Everado Venegas-Lumbreras, 38, both of Bell Gardens; Javier Avila-Lopez, 40, and Eduardo Ortega-Plascencia, 39, both of Los Angeles; Margarito Enciso, 27, of Long Beach; and Silverio Palma-Carlin, 31, Francisco Arellano, 32, Alfredo Rutillo-Medina, 27, all of Mexico.
Other agencies that assisted in the arrests include the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Bell, Huntington Park, Long Beach and Vernon police departments.
"This is an ongoing investigation," Kozak said. "We are concerned about the source origin of these weapons and the distribution network. The size of their stockpile implies that they were supplying other gangs."