FBI announces 'takedown' of 2 Los Angeles gangs; more than 80 suspected members charged

Federal prosecutors say they've dealt a blow to two Los Angeles gangs that have ties to the Mexican Mafia after charging dozens of suspected members with racketeering and drug and gun violations in indictments announced Wednesday.

Indictments against the Vineland Boys gang say its members exerted control over their San Fernando Valley territory by shooting and assaulting rival gangs, trafficking in drugs and guns, and extorting money from other dealers.

Twenty-five suspected Vineland Boys members were arrested Wednesday, while 11 others charged already were in custody.

"This takedown will provide significant relief to the law-abiding residents of the east San Fernando Valley," said Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles field Office.

"It sends a strong message to the gang that we will continue our efforts to crush their organization until they no longer pose any threat," he said.

Law enforcement previously targeted the gang in 2003 after two of its members fatally shot Burbank police Officer Matthew Pavelka and wounded his partner during a traffic stop. The crackdown that followed led to a series of federal indictments that resulted in four dozen convictions and lifetime sentences for two defendants.

Though prosecutors said the indictments at the time "severely disrupted" Vineland Boys, the gang regenerated.

"Unfortunately, a new generation of gangsters has come of age and tried to revive the organization's control of drug trafficking through violence," Delacourt said.

The other indictments announced Wednesday say the South Los Angeles-based Florencia-13 gang has been trafficking in drugs, committed attempted murder of a rival gang member, and tried to smuggle drugs into California's prisons, including mailing shipments of 100 grams of heroin to an imprisoned Mexican Mafia member.

Police recently arrested 11 of the gang's alleged members, while 16 others charged in the indictments already were in custody and nine remain fugitives.

Prosecutors say the lead defendant, identified as 47-year-old Leonel Laredo, directed Florencia-13's operations from his prison cell in Beaumont, Texas. Laredo, imprisoned on racketeering and drug convictions stemming from his Florencia-13 connections, remained a leader of the gang and is a member of the Mexican Mafia, prosecutors said.

Vineland Boys also have Mexican Mafia ties, but not nearly as strong as Florencia-13's, prosecutors said.

In June, federal prosecutors announced sweeping racketeering conspiracies against 83 suspected Mexican Mafia members. The organization, made up of leaders from various Latino gangs, operates like an illegal government within prison walls, collecting "taxes" on smuggled drugs, ordering hits on people who don't obey, and even calling the shots on street crimes, prosecutors say.