51 people were indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday as authorities made early morning raids targeting a Latino gang that allegedly terrorized and harassed blacks in the Azusa area for nearly 20 years.
The indictment, unsealed Tuesday, said members of the Azusa 13 gang targeted blacks and engaged in a range of crimes including murder, narcotics and weapons trafficking, and intimidation.
“The Azusa 13 gang waged a campaign of hate during a two-decade crime spree in which African-Americans were harassed and attacked,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “We hope that this federal case will signal the end of this racist behavior and will help vindicate all of the victims who have suffered over the years.”
More than two-thirds of Azusa is Hispanic, while roughly 3 percent is black.
The indictment also alleges Azusa 13 was associated with the Mexican Mafia prison gang. Through December 2008, the gang operated under the control of a person only known as “Mexican Mafia member #1,” a mafia member who originated the gang.
Azusa 13 would pay “taxes” to the mafia in return for protection and exclusive control over Azusa. In turn, the gang would extort money from local drug traffickers who operated in the area. If a drug trafficker refused to pay the “tax,” they faced reprisals from the gang.
More: The Indictment
“The alleged ‘tax’ payments made to the Mexican Mafia documented in this indictment demonstrate the hierarchy and organization of this criminal enterprise,” said Marcus E. Williams, acting Special Agent in Charge of IRS.
Sixteen of the people named in the indictment were arrested Tuesday, while another 23 were already in custody, U.S. attorney’s spokesman Thom Mrozek said. Authorities were seeking another 12 suspects.
Azusa 13 gang members “take pride in the crimes committed by other Azusa 13 gang members” and believe that “the commission of crimes enhances the status of the entire Azusa 13 gang” in the eyes of other criminal gangs and the Mexican Mafia, the indictment said.
In one instance, prosecutors said Marty Michaels, known as “Casper,” and another Azusa 13 member punched a black man in January 2000 while using a racial epithet. In April 2010, Manuel Jimenez yelled a racial slur at a black high school student returning home from a track meet, the indictment said. Jimenez and another man hit the student, chased him down the street and stole his items, prosecutors said.
Azusa 13 gang member, Ralph “Swifty” Flores was sentenced to death in 2008 after he was convicted of four murders. A judge imposed three death sentences for three murders between 2002 and 2004 as well as a sentence of life without parole for the racially motivated murder of black teen Christopher Lynch in 1999. Flores was 17 at the time of the murder and not eligible for the death penalty because he was a minor.
The case against the Azusa 13 gang marks only the second time in history that federal civil rights laws have been used against members of a criminal street gang, according to the Department of Justice.