By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
After she complained to Perez, police loudly knocked on her door in full view of the trouble spot. Then, someone scraped her car with a key. She was afraid to let her children outside after that. Perez listened intently, as she described her fear. “Call me next time,” Perez was now telling her, “and I’ll see it doesn’t happen again.”
The next day, Perez presided over another community event in which he once again acted as the benevolent political boss: free turkeys and bags of food for everyone — compliments of the city with a $3.8 million reserve and one of the highest unemployment rates in Los Angeles County.
Such events enhance Cudahy’s south-of-the-border image. While residents get these nominal handouts, the Weekly has learned, gang members get city jobs. In May 2006, according to a Maywood Police arrest report, police were attempting to pull over 20-year-old city employee Robert Garcia in traffic, when Garcia drove into Perez’s driveway and started yelling, “George! George! George!” Police searching Garcia’s car found a knife and less than a gram of meth and booked Garcia, identified in the report as an 18th Street gang member, for possession of drugs. Garcia pleaded guilty and is receiving drug counseling, according to the District Attorney's Office.
Perez says he believes in second chances. But when asked by the Weekly whether he believes he should be held accountable for the dangerous conditions in his city, Perez offers an anecdote that suggests he is unable to confront them.
In December 2005, 28-year-old Cudahy resident Francisco Lopez was shot and killed, Perez says, a murder which prompted a woman to loudly criticize Perez in public while her son, an active gang member, looked on. Perez, knowing about the son’s gang involvement, said nothing about the mother’s hypocrisy.
Clearly proud, Perez tells the Weekly, “The next day the son came and thanked me” for not publicly mentioning his gang affiliation.
Others find that benevolent attitude outrageous. “That is empowering a gangster and telling him it’s okay,” says former councilwoman Araceli Gonzalez.
At the same time, Perez has cordial relations with Hector Marroquin Sr., an 18th Street Gang member who, despite touting himself as a gang-intervention worker, also is a street enforcer for the Mexican mafia, according to confidential law-enforcement documents obtained by the Weekly. (See “Broken Bridges,” L.A. Weekly, December 15-21, 2006.)
Perez is hardly shy about his relationship with this alleged mafia associate whose street nickname is “Weasel.” Marroquin owns a bar called Marroking’s Deuces on Atlantic Avenue in Cudahy. This month, campaign signs for the longtime Cudahy City Council incumbents adorn the property, the scene of an alleged assault in 2005 during which Marroquin, according to an arrest report, warned a patron who owed him money: “You’re messing with the Mexican mafia. I run all of Cudahy.”
Last March, police searched the bar and adjacent buildings in connection with a home-invasion robbery they suspected Marroquin’s son had committed. The police found ammunition, drugs and gang literature.
Marroquin’s reaction to the police search? He called City Manager Perez.
Perez pauses briefly before conceding that he placed a call to then-Maywood Police Chief Bruce Leflar, going to the top on behalf of a dubious associate. “I’m concerned any time a business owner in this community feels harassed,” Perez says.
Perez fumbles for an explanation when asked why Marroking’s Deuces, according to city records, has not had a valid business license since 2004: “I don’t know how that happened.” When asked about the community’s low perception of the bar Marroquin owns, Perez shrugs, “We’ve noticed a certain element hanging out there.”
A key figure in the upcoming election is Cudahy Vice Mayor Osvaldo Conde, the owner of a meat market and check-cashing store. Conde, at times a Perez ally, seems to lead a double life.
A regular at the Potrero Club, where he doesn’t bother to clear security but just walks right in, Conde was arrested in the early-morning hours in December in Huntington Park on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol, according to information released by Huntington Park Police.
He was not booked as Osvaldo Conde but as Osvaldo Lopez. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge of drunken driving. But the Weekly has learned that Conde has two different birth dates and two different Social Security numbers on business-license records in Cudahy. Conde lives part time in Lynwood, four miles south of Cudahy. Conde would not respond to the Weekly’s requests for an interview.
It’s hard not to feel for Cudahy, the little city plagued by gang and drug crime — and no apparent interest on the part of local, regional or federal authorities in stopping it. Observers say the government won’t act until residents raise a big enough stink — as Maywood residents just did.
“People in Cudahy are immigrants and renters, and all they want is to come home from work and enjoy a barbecue on weekends,” says L.A. Sheriff’s Detective Gama. “There are good people there, but they don’t want to challenge authority.”
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