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November 28, 2012 | By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times
From a prison cell outside California, an inmate known as "Evil" was making himself known on Ventura County's streets. Martin Madrigal, 39, was squeezing drug profits from street gangs for the prison-based Mexican Mafia, according to a grand jury indictment released Tuesday. He was so feared that rival gangs cooperated on extortion schemes, drug deals and violent crimes, according to law enforcement officials. The 35-count indictment portrays Madrigal as a powerful figure representing an efficient and merciless organization that law enforcement officials believe has been operating for decades, largely from behind bars, calling shots among street gangs.
November 16, 2012 | By Jonathan Zimmerman
In 1954, psychologist Benjamin Karpman wrote a prescient book about "sexual offenders" in the United States. Karpman focused especially on homosexuals who were drummed out of government jobs on the grounds that their sexual orientation made them security risks. If you were gay, the argument went, you were susceptible to blackmail by communist spies. But the real problem lay in the taboo on homosexuality, which paved the way for exactly the kind of extortion that the government feared.
November 8, 2012 | By Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times
BOGOTA, Colombia - Colombian authorities launched an intensive manhunt for members of a drug-trafficking gang suspected in the massacre of 10 peasants in the northern state of Antioquia, apparently for not paying extortion money. The killings occurred Wednesday night at a farm in Santa Rosa de Osos township, about 175 miles north of the capital, Bogota. Antioquia Gov. Sergio Fajardo said on his website that the farmworkers, nine men and a woman, were killed by a grenade thrown by gang members who have been fighting over a nearby drug-trafficking corridor.
November 2, 2012 | By Jon Healey
The Times' editorial board weighed in again Friday on Proposition 30, trying to remind voters about the cuts looming for schools, higher education and other state programs if the measure fails. More than 20 readers quickly pushed back, arguing that Sacramento already is killing the state with taxes and that lawmakers should learn to live within their means. That's the same argument you'll hear from some quarters about any proposed tax increase. But readers made another, more distinctive point about this measure, which Gov. Jerry Brown put together to help close the state's nagging budget gap. By giving voters the choice between a tax increase and more cuts to schools, they contended, Brown is committing extortion at the ballot box. Here's how a reader identified as "Retired LASD" put it: "Will the scare tactics by these sleazy politicians never cease?
October 23, 2012 | By Chuck Schilken
A 26-year-old Pittsburgh man allegedly sought $15,000 from the personal assistant of retired Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward after threatening to release evidence that the former Super Bowl MVP had paid for sex with a woman. "It's called buying silence, brother," suspect Joshua Van Auker allegedly told Raymond Burgess, Ward's assistant. It's also called extortion, and Van Auker now faces a preliminary hearing on two felony counts of it following his arrest last week after allegedly selling Burgess so-called evidence that Ward had paid for a "physical relationship" with Van Auker's girlfriend.
October 12, 2012 | By Hector Becerra, Danielle Ryan and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times
Federal authorities Thursday named Mara Salvatrucha MS-13, the ruthless Latin American gang born three decades ago on the streets of Los Angeles, as a "transnational criminal organization," becoming the first street gang to join the list. The designation gives the U.S. Treasury Department the power to freeze any financial assets from the gang or its members and prohibits financial institutions from engaging in any transactions with members of the group. Officials said the move is designed to reduce the flow of gang money within the United States and across the border.
August 23, 2012 | By Nicole Sperling
Federal agents have arrested a man suspected of issuing death threats to a slew of business titans, including film mogul  Harvey Weinstein, and demanding that they send millions to an offshore bank account.  The news was first reported by The Smoking Gun website . The suspect, identified as 25-year-old Vivek Shah, an actor living in West Hollywood, was arrested on Aug. 10 at his parents' house in Illinois. According to a sworn affidavit from Postal Inspector Joshua Mehall, Shah had been sending threatening letters to Weinstein -- co-chairman of the Weinstein Co. --  and four other moguls, in June and July.
July 16, 2012 | By Matt Donnelly
In keeping with the Ministry's rich tradition of covering beefcake, congratulations may be in order for Anthony Mackie.  The 32-year-old actor is reportedly in talks to play Falcon, a super pal of Chris Evans' Captain America in Marvel's sequel "Captain America: The Winter Soldier. " While there's no official word on the deal, Falcon boasts talents such as telepathically communicating with birds and taking flight with the help of a special suit,  according to the Hollywood Reporter.  Mackie broke out alongside Jeremy Renner in 2008's "The Hurt Locker," and turned heads with the 2011 cover of Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue.  He's got "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in theaters, but Mackie's next turn will likely generate just as much heat as his potential induction into the Marvel universe: He'll be flexing guns alongside Mark Wahlberg in "Pain and Gain.
May 12, 2012 | By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times
In 2005, leaders of a gang that sold crack and other drugs near MacArthur Park decided to add a new business venture: extorting the vendors who crowd the streets each evening, selling clothes, pirated DVDs and electronics to supplement a hardscrabble existence. The new effort led to a bloody consequence in September 2007, when an 18-year-old tasked with gunning down a defiant vendor accidentally shot to death a 3-week-old infant. The baby's death triggered a large-scale crackdown on the clique that culminated with a two-month trial that began in March.
March 18, 2012 | By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times
No taco stand was too small for Juan Arturo Vargas, alias "The Rat. " Every week, Vargas would shake down the businesses in Nicolas Romero, a working-class town an hour outside the Mexican capital. His take: anywhere from $25 to several hundred dollars. His leverage: Pay up, or your kids will get hurt. The Rat, police and prosecutors say, worked at the low end of a vast spectrum of the fastest-growing nonlethal criminal enterprise in Mexico: extortion. From mom-and-pop businesses to mid-size construction projects to some of Mexico's wealthiest citizens, almost every segment of the economy and society has been subjected to extortion schemes, authorities and records indicate.
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