By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“It was scary being in the middle of Drew Street,” recalls Langarica, in typical cop understatement. Danny Leon was wearing a black ski mask on top of his head, and he “pulled it down when he began shooting” at the two officers. Langarica, a familiar presence who made arrests almost daily on Drew Street, adds, “I think it was more personal toward me, because of the background between me and Danny Leon and the Avenues.”
But the two seasoned gang cops were better shots than the two thugs. They killed Leon and wounded Gomez, 18, who was later charged with the murder of the Cypress Park grandfather, Salas, and with attempted murder of the two officers.
That was the last day Langarica was allowed to patrol Drew Street. He was reassigned to the training division because police supervisors “were worried for my safety.” After Robbery-Homicide conducted a “threat assessment,” Langarica was given an LAPD shotgun and a radio to take home. A local police department still patrols his neighborhood in an undisclosed location.
Four months after the shootout, in June 2008, the feds oversaw a massive raid on Drew Street, which badly damaged the Avenues gang presence. In reaction, the Mexican Mafia overlords who rule Los Angeles’ Latino-gang drug trafficking began methodically rebuilding their Drew Street drug operations. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the imprisoned mafia honchos issued new marching orders starting in the summer of 2008, by using illegal cell phones smuggled into their state prison cells, and by easily passing messages during prison visitation hours.
Among those orders, the Mexican Mafia handpicked Velasquez to take over drug operations from the decimated Leon family. It was perfect timing, since Velasquez was getting out of prison in July 2008, having served only a year after brutally kicking a female cop in the face during a police chase on Drew Street, then breaking into an apartment and ordering the terrified family inside to provide him with a change of clothes.
The cocky lifelong loser went free on July 24, 2008. Just nine days after Velasquez got out of prison, the feds and LAPD allege, he shot down Escalante after the father of three strapped a baby seat into his wife’s car.
“Most people are still in bed at 5:30 a.m., and for them to go out and find him, I think it is very unusual — and it indicated that there was knowledge that he was going to work,” says Assistant U.S. Attorney Brunwin.
The deputy grew up on Thorpe Avenue and his parents still lived there. The entire Escalante family was known to the gang members in the neighborhood. “I think they knew who he was. They may be trying to claim that they didn’t know who he was, or thought he was a gang member, but I don’t think it makes sense in the circumstances.”
One highly experienced gang expert has a competing theory, saying, “It would be a good thing for Carlos to say he killed the deputy, to put him in good light with the Mexican Mafia.” This source has no independent evidence of his theory, and acknowledges, “I know he said those things on the wire.” However, the source suggests, “It seems to me that he found out on the news who he had killed, then he started bragging.”
The feds are now investigating whether the Mexican Mafia ordered Velasquez to murder the deputy. The grand jury indictment unsealed last month names 88 people and alleges a vast number of crimes. Among those indicted are several key members of the Aguirre family, who local and federal law enforcement say are the bosses over the Leon family and the Avenues gang.
The Aguirres run their Mexican Mafia operations from California state prisons, led by such figures as Richie “Little Pee Wee” Aguirre and his uncle Richard “Psycho” Aguirre. The Aguirres “are charged with having been in control of the Avenues gang — for a long time — and a number of them were continuing the activity” after Maria Leon was driven out and her house torn to the ground, says Assistant U.S. Attorney Ariel Neuman.
In fact, alleged cop killer Velasquez was so tight with the Mexican Mafia, according to the indictment, that mafioso Little Pee Wee asked Velasquez to smuggle black tar heroin in his rectum into the L.A. County Jail. Incredibly, authorities say, convict Aguirre runs the drug trade in the Los Angeles County jail system from his distant perch inside Kern Valley State Prison, where he is serving a life sentence for murdering three people as a teenager.
How does the imprisoned Mexican Mafia so easily run crime ops in Los Angeles? Among other things, according to the feds, the prison guard named in the federal indictment, identified as Tammy Armstrong, appears to have been involved with Aguirre’s Kern Valley State Prison cellmate because she sent the cellmate explicit photos of herself using sex toys. Officials say Armstrong supplied him with a pin number for an illegal AT&T prepaid cell phone — and made sure he had plenty of minutes.