- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2007

Drug-enforcement agents swept through Los Angeles this week in the second major wave of arrests of members and associates of a violent Hispanic street gang known as Florencia 13, who have targeted rival blacks and others “who got in the way” of their efforts to control parts of the city.

Four separate federal grand jury indictments identified 102 suspected gang members and associates, who face federal charges ranging from racketeering and narcotics trafficking to illegal weapon possession and murder.

A federal task force rounded up 80 of those named so far as part of “Operation Joker’s Wild,” a three-year investigation into Florencia 13, or F-13.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spokesman Rusty Payne said the operation targeted the F-13 organization “top to bottom, as well as its criminal associates,” who are controlled by jailed members of the Mexican mafia prison gang and Mexican mafia members on the street.

Mr. Payne said the F-13 gang controlled drug distribution in the unincorporated areas around Los Angeles, collecting taxes or “rent” from gang members and others who engaged in criminal conduct.

In return, he said, the Mexican mafia protected them when they went to prison or jail.

Law enforcement officers consider F-13 a dangerous gang that controls the largest area in all the Los Angeles district. Its membership is said to be in the thousands. Members are divided into dozens of cliques, or subgroups.

The gang also operates in Mexico, Utah, Virginia, Washington state and Missouri.

“Drugs and guns are always a deadly combination, and the Florencia gang used both of them to impose their will on anyone who stood in their way,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Timothy J. Landrum in Los Angeles.

“Unfortunately for them, DEA isn’t easily intimidated and remains committed to locking up gang members who continue to bring their violent criminal ways into our communities,” said Mr. Landrum, who described the arrests as a “testament to the strong relationship that exists between federal, state and local officials to rid the streets of L.A. of drug gangs.”

Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s office of investigations in Los Angeles, said Operation Joker’s Wild dealt a “major blow to one of the most violent and active street gangs in California.”

“As we did in this case, ICE will continue to use its powerful immigration and customs authorities to attack and dismantle violent street gangs in Los Angeles and nationwide,” Mr. Schoch said.

According to the indictments, the gang operated a number of “drug-distribution dens” in the South Los Angeles area that not only served as stash locations for drugs that were further distributed, but were also used as “drive-ins” and “walk-ins” for buyers.

“The series of indictments that now have been unsealed have delivered a crushing blow to this street gang,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien in Los Angeles. “When we announced the first phase of this case two weeks ago, we were able to say that the leadership of the gang had been taken off the streets. Now we can say that more than 100 individuals linked to Florencia 13 face federal charges and up to life in federal prison for crimes that terrorized South Los Angeles.”

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