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$50,000 tattoo blaster stolen from L.A.-area nonprofit clinic

The director of Sunrise Community Outreach, which helps former gang members erase their pasts, is devastated. 'This is not something you take to a local pawnbroker,' she says.

March 28, 2010|By Jill Leovy and Ruben Vives
  • Rene Lopez, a former client who had a gang-related tattoo removed from his upper back and now is a board member of Sunrise Community Outreach, is seen through a window broken in the burglary.
Rene Lopez, a former client who had a gang-related tattoo removed from his… (Christina House / For The…)

It wasn't just any burglary.

The crime that struck Sunrise Community Outreach early Friday was more like a blow to the heart.

The thief took a $50,000 tattoo-removal machine central to the group's mission -- removing tattoos from former gang members eager to erase their pasts.

"It's devastating. Now we can't do our thing," said Rosemarie Ashamalla, executive director of the Westlake nonprofit.

The Los Angeles Police Department got the burglary call Friday morning after the group's receptionist arrived to find the front window smashed and the heavy wheeled laser missing.

Investigators later interviewed a passerby who saw someone "pushing a large device" near the area about 1 a.m., said Capt. Steve Ruiz of the LAPD's Rampart Division.

Police are continuing their investigation, but Ashamalla said she doesn't have much hope the machine will be recovered.

The organization is probably out of business "unless something fantastic happens," she said.

Ashamalla said the machine was not insured. She said she tried to insure it but that Sunrise's nonprofit status was an impediment.

Ashamalla said she doesn't know why anyone would take the highly specialized Palomar Q-YAG 5 laser system.

"This is not something you take to a local pawnbroker," she said, adding that she suspects the thief had a prearranged buyer.

Gang members, prostitutes and other underworld denizens in Los Angeles are often young when they get their tattoos, marks of ill-conceived loyalty that hinder the wearer later on, when they try to get jobs and change their lives.

Sunrise Community Outreach was one of the few Los Angeles organizations that removed tattoos at very low cost, said Ashamalla, who founded the nonprofit about a decade ago.

Until Friday, Sunrise provided tattoo removals for about 200 people each year. Clients scheduled eight to 10 sessions with the now-stolen machine, which beams a laser beneath the skin that breaks up molecules of tattoo ink.

Most clients are referred by juvenile detention, police or parole officials, or by gang-intervention groups, Ashamalla said.

Among those clients who learned of the theft Friday was David Pacheco, a 49-year-old former gang member who had been driving back and forth from his home in Phoenix to have a large tattoo removed from his back. He said he wanted it gone so he could set a good example for his three children.

Pacheco was four treatments away from having the image completely erased when he received a phone call telling him the machine was gone and his next appointment was canceled.

"I really needed this. I can't afford going anywhere else," Pacheco said. "They stole my future."

jill.leovy@latimes.com

ruben.vives@latimes.com

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