Retired L.A. Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Valdemar, a 33-year veteran detective and nationally recognized authority on gangs, said the 18th Street gang’s immigrant roots led to ties with drug-trafficking organizations from the beginning.
“18th Street was able to establish itself in an area already heavily dotted with other drug-dealing gangs,” he said. “Their growth was unbelievable.”
In the early 1990s, he said, the Mexican Mafia brought them under control by edict and forced them to thin their ranks and focus on illicit financial activity.
Establishing relationships in the legitimate business and political community is a significant way for 18th Street to protect its interests, Sgt. Valdemar said.
“They cultivate people, do favors for them, then they leverage those favors by asking for favors of their own,” he said. “They spread money around by buying businesses, cars and real estate in other people’s names and let those people use the property until they are ready to take it for themselves. Or they finance candidates who they think will be loyal to them.
“Once they have gained acceptance, they can seek city officials’ help in obtaining a business permit or liquor license, or police protection for their criminal activities. The money isn’t obvious, but it’s there.”
One notorious 18th Street member in Cudahy, Hector Marroquin, who, according to police reports and law enforcement documents also had ties to the Mexican Mafia, for years operated an unlicensed business, a nightclub called Marrokings, on the city’s main commercial stretch.
Marroquin claimed to have reformed. He started the anti-gang program “No Guns” and, after receiving $1.5 million in gang-intervention funding from the city of Los Angeles, he was sentenced in 2006 to seven years in state prison for selling automatic weapons to undercover agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Police officials said that Cudahy City Manager George Perez once intervened on Marroquin’s behalf when officers visited Marroquin’s nightclub looking for parole violators affiliated with the 18th Street gang. Mr. Perez in a 2007 news story confirmed calling the police chief on Marroquin’s behalf, saying he would be concerned any time a business owner felt harassed. He did not return calls for this report.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, a candidate for California attorney general, said last week that an FBI corruption probe is ongoing in Cudahy. Law enforcement officials close to the investigation told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity that the probe includes suspected gang, Mexican Mafia and drug cartel ties to city officials in Cudahy, but the FBI would not comment.
Mr. Cooley added that “other agencies at other levels of government” continue to probe kickback allegations and other possible criminal charges in Maywood, whose police force until recently had a contract to patrol Cudahy.
Those probes are in addition to an investigation into potential conflict-of-interest charges resulting from the salary scandal in Bell, where the state attorney general’s office is engaged in a “sweeping investigation focused on all possible violations of law by Bell officials,” said a spokesman for Mr. Brown.
Suspected violations of state conflict-of-interest laws also were the subject of a grand jury investigation in Cudahy in 2001, when Mr. Perez as a council member voted for a law change that allowed him to step down and almost immediately be appointed city manager — a move that afforded him a 30 percent salary increase and an appointment to a $600-a-month commissioner’s post on a local water board.
No criminal charges were ever filed.
In 2003, Mr. Perez brought change to Cudahy by canceling the city’s law enforcement contract with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office, the second-largest police agency in the United States, and bringing in the troubled Maywood police — a force that came under state and federal investigation in 2007 and recently was disbanded when Maywood was dropped by its insurers after receiving numerous claims relating to officer misconduct.