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
But it was the January 2008 strangling of Rosa Garcia that revved up the federal and local task force, Operation Treadstone, which had been delving into L.A.’s growing casita phenomenon for only four weeks when she was slain. The pretty, likable young woman with sad eyes had been a familiar face at Vicki’s Tacos, chatting happily as she stood in line. She was found in an alley across the street from the taco truck, two blocks from Florence and Normandie.
Nobody knew Garcia’s full story, but she’d been a B-girl off and on for years, dancing and peddling beers to the men who frequented two casitas — Fanny’s, in the abandoned 99-cent shop, and another one a block away, tucked between the liquor store and a closed hair salon in a cheesy neighborhood mini-mall.
Her murder “kind of haunts us all,” says Sergeant Alma Burke, a no-nonsense cop who supervises the 22-member Operation Treadstone task force. “We really focused more time on [the proliferation of casitas] after her murder.”
LAPD doesn’t pretend to grasp the extent of the casita problem. When the task force began in December 2007, Burke recalls, the police were so perplexed by what they were unearthing in the wasted old houses and barricaded storefronts that, “we thought the B-girls were human-trafficking victims.” Today, the cops know better, as they struggle to understand and stop the latest crime phenomenon in South L.A.
Operation Treadstone was a risky 18-month investigation in which Burke’s 22-person undercover crew of federal ATF agents, vice cops and detectives donned gangwear and grew long hair in order to fit in while haggling with hardcore gang members; the cops bought everything from illegal weapons to meth. Their goal? To catch casita operators and crack down on the legally licensed but shadowy neighborhood bars that help the casitas to thrive by funneling them customers after hours, often in illegal taxis that are part of the underground system.
Vice cops and federal agents quietly launched Operation Treadstone — named after Robert Ludlum’s fictional CIA operation in The Bourne Identity — after a man was shot inside a casita hidden in a dilapidated former mom-and-pop store in a house on Vermont Avenue.
Last June 25, in a sting targeting five casitas, the task force searched 19 homes, apartments and businesses; arrested 27 members and associates of the 18th Street gang; nabbed 15 weapons, more than $42,000 in cash, 18 slot machines, four stolen cars and about 200 pounds of illegal fireworks; and took three endangered children into protective custody.
Undercover agents entered a defunct mom-and-pop store turned casita at 6012 South Vermont Avenue, known as El Guero — “whitey,” after its light-skinned proprietor, Angel Rivera; it appeared abandoned, its windows and doors boarded up. Inside, they found a jammed casita bustling with about 60 men and B-girls, customers supplied by nearby bars such as Chalino’s, according to police. Rivera, a Mexican national and felon with known ties to the 18th Street gang, was raking in illegal cash. In a dungeonlike, windowless hovel in the back, officers found a filthy, blue, foldup mattress — the B-girls’ workspace.
Cops actually remembered Rivera’s loungelike casita from two years earlier, when undercover LAPD officers went inside on another case — and were offered a bucket of six Corona beers for $30, served up, bizarrely, by aging gang members employed as waiters. The cops busted several people that night, but the casita remained open because authorities had their hands full with bigger cases.
LAPD vice officer Melendez (who prefers his first name remain anonymous) explains how the system works: “At the casitas, the doorman will ask the girl if she knows you. She will vouch for me. I make friends with her, so she will back me up. ... They don’t just allow anyone in there. You have to be invited, which is where the legitimate bars come in.”
Explains ATF agent Mike Hoffman, “A lot of time, people are dropped off by bandit taxicabs. The one on Vermont — there were so many people there, and not a lot of cars parked out front. They keep it as low-key as possible. But that is the unique angle in this whole case: These places exist, and they’re a little underworld.”
Now Rivera, who ran the casita on Vermont, is charged with felony possession of a firearm, among other crimes. At his private home near South Park a few miles away, detectives found cocaine, guns, ammunition, a cache of cameras, cell phones and iPods — and four slot machines.
Casita operator Fanny Barros, a Guatemalan national and alleged former B-girl, was busted, and cops closed down her 99-cent-store location, charging her with attempting to buy stolen booze and cigarettes from an undercover cop.
One of the biggest coups for cops was the arrests of members of the De Los Angeles family, who, police believe, are high-level 18th Street gang associates. The 18th Street gang has been crossing into Florencia 13 territory with the blessings of the Mexican Mafia to prey on casitas, extorting taxes and installing slot machines, from which they take up to $1,000 a week while forcing the casitas to pay the winning gamblers. The U.S. Attorney is prosecuting drug felon Felipe De Los Angeles, a slippery Mexican national who attorneys say illegally crossed back into California after he was deported in 2004 upon his release from state prison. (De Los Angeles was acquitted of a 1995 murder on Hollywood Boulevard; LAPD detectives still believe he is guilty.) Cops arrested De Los Angeles’ older brother George, who was found with body armor, ammunition and pistols. Another brother, Victor, was also arrested, and a female relative, Guadalupe Calixto, was taken into custody after selling meth to undercover feds.
I should like to know the criterion for posting on this site. My posts disappear.
I'm a writer and enjoy participation in news commentaries. I see all kinds of spam, vitriolic language, partisan and racist views. But apparently all things are ok so long as you're not critical of the article or you provide insights that differ from the status quo.
I'm an expat living away from California, is that the problem? I think we have a serious social and political issues with overbearing government, insidious corporatism, and the loss of our Bill of Rights. Am I the only one?
yea go to Hard Rock or Hollywood and pay 6.00/10.00 for a warm beer. how arrogant and uppity and bla bla bla people wanna stay close to home. ya want they should go to fullerton and get killed by police?
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Folks, these "casitas" are not legally authorized. Period. This is more of the rampant corruption in our city. The zoning people know about it. The cops know about it. The City Hall knows about it. This city is operating this way for a political reason:
Cheap labor, and votes.
This is defacto slavery. Otherwise, we would see the various governments jumping to increase legal immigration from Mexico. That would solve the problem immediately. So why are we not seeing LEGAL immigration quotas being increased drastically?
The "undocumented" (funny, euphemistic term) send MONEY back to their country of origin. They plan on retiring their once they save up enough to buy a true "casita". Meanwhile, back here in "El Norte", they are only able to work for sub-par wages. some unscrupulous business people (read: 100's of thousands of 'em) just want to make a buck and they don't really care what else happens, so they hire 'em no questions asked.
The governments, which are now mainly staffed with one particular political party (the evil one...the other one is the dumb one), have figured out that naive voters who have not carefully looked at political facts in the US will obviously vote for their party, which is always protrayed as the party of the people, and the one most sympathetic to the common man (a total lie, when you examine how big government and big business are joined at the hip).
So, those who really do favor the immigrant, would want to crack down on this, and remove each and every one of the existing local goverment leaders, then, while they are at it, crack down on every business hiring 'em, and then jack up quotas of immigrants like 100 to 200 times what they are now.
Of course they will need to do this over the strenuous objections of the Calderon administration (which is just as culpable as is the USA).
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Mexico is in North America.
And yeah, because no one in the United States who isn't Hispanic does drugs solicits prostitutes gambles or takes illegal drugs.
"Idicative of what goes on down South." Have you ever been there? Have you lived there for any significant amount of time?
You racist pricks make me sick.
Those so quick to whine racism too often confuse it with fact. These are facts being reported, about the casitas, if you don't like them, change your behavior and that of your "culture". What I want to know is how all of these "legal" bars were ever licensed? How can an illegal, felon immigrant be able to own one of these "bars"? Did Trutanich sign the papers himself? If not,(and even more if so!), get rid of all of them and all the human-offal ridden casitas with them. If permits/licenses were granted, they can just as easily be revoked. Arrest and deport. Repeat. Although sad for Rosa Garcia, here is another illegal (now formerly) on OUR EBT system. That should also be illegal. Arrest and deport...
This article isn't racist, at least not too much. It's sensational, and it hits at some painful facts, and these facts recall some negative stereotypes. Maybe it could have been written more sensitively. Maybe don't use a term like "south of the border" because that has a lot of negative baggage. It could have been handled more like the SGV whorehouse story.
Most of the others saying its not racism - you are just confused and sound foolish, because you don't even know what racism is. Or, worse, you are racists.
The content is not racist. It's describing a real problem of speakeasies opening up in vacant storefronts.
The real racism here is embedded in the history and existence of South Central L.A., an issue which the rest of LA has not fixed.
This article won't lead to doing anything positive for South Central LA. Just like the SGV whorehouse story didn't stop that problem. That's the real racism.
Since when does the LA Weekly hire Minutemen publicists to write their articles? Its not so much that the article is inacurate, its just that the paranoid sensationalism that drives the narrative that renders it offensive. And I was under the impression that the speakeasy was more or less an American inovation...
I totally agree with FSL from Pasadena. Latinos is not a race. That�s just some bullshit White America came up with (that�s another story). Why are Mexicans screaming racism towards Latinos? Casitas are a Mexican thing definitely not a Latino thing. They are giving all �Latinos� a bad name. I am happy the police are cracking down on them. And so no one will say that I am a Gringo. My ethnic background is Latino. And I could definitely assure you that Central And South American people don�t go to �Casitas�.So please stop giving the rest of us a bad name. Mexican is not a race it is a Nationality.
Latino But Not Mexican, Los Angeles, CA
Excellent article. Just because it exposes an ugly truth does not make it racist. There are only three races on the planet: Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid. The issue of the U.S. being invaded by an estimated 14 million people from other countries is not a racial one -- much as the bleeding heart liberals would like it to be. It's an issue of people from certain countries invading another country. Nations used to go to war over issues such as this. If this were the Middle East or Eastern Europe, we would be taking up arms over this crisis. But we're too mamby-pamby. The weather here is too mild and the surf is so excellent, Dude.
The desire to have a sovereign border is too politically incorrect in this day and age. It offends too many people.
If we could muster up the "juevos" to enforce our immigration laws, it would go a long, long way in reducing other illegal activities, such as the ones depicted in the article. People who are used to breaking certain laws have no problem in breaking a series of other laws.
Thank you, LA WEEKLY, for having the courage to print this article. Of course, it would be a cold day in hell when we would read anything like this in the LA TIMES, a publication that pretty much has no problem with the phenomena of illegal immigration.
I dont see nothing wrong with the bars its the casitas ran by gang members that should be targeted by police. i drink at one of these bars the police is full of shit. they need to investigate better the bar that i go the only thing they did wrong was purchased beer from a undercover cop wow thats a big crime and they are trying to take their business away the city is full of it.
Wow! Think about how boring it was in the former USA before we got all this wonderful cultural enrichment from south of the border. Everywhere in this country that becomes more "Latinized" becomes so much more vibrant! Thanks people!!! Keep up the great work so we can someday reach our brightest hopes and aspirations of being another great "Latin American" country!
Bravo to the L.A. Weekly for excellent investigative work. There is absolutely ZERO racism going on in this extremely important article, as the politically correct reactionaries charge.
this article isn't racist, this artlcle sad and haunting and illuminates the isolation provided for residents of this huge city. i praise the writer.
Truly worthwhile reading......
I spent 30 years in Montebello/East LA/Hoover, etc... This story is not racist, I had no idea about them. Nice photos by the photographer. Can I be your apprentice :)
This is a racist article, oh geez how come this white girl doesn't write about her "white sisters" getting gang banged on video for porno out in San Fernando Valley. What about all the social decay that creates, oh yeah I forgot it's ok when whites do it. The LA Weekly is becoming more right wing on a weekly basis, look out FOX you got competition.
Wow, that is without doubt the fattest cop I have ever seen!
Is there a place left in America that's not dysfunctional? It's greatest cities are rotting away from the inside. Glad I made it out of the U.S. Sorry for the rest of you though.
LA is the worst city in the United States, next to New York.
Stop bitching about over population and move out of the craphole of city you all live in.
Live in reality, not some artificial concrete jungle.
Racism? This article is painful for a latino and Mexican American to read. But it is not racism. What is racist is the corrupt, very white Mexican elite that forces so many of its people into abject poverty. Take a look at spanish language TV to see how the racial caste system works throughout Latin America. The casitas are at the lower end of the caste system that is being imported into the US and they serve a purpose for the Mexican cartels that are operating more and more brazenly. I feel for the people of South Central who now must live under the oppression they thought they had left behind. This should be an eye opener to Latinos eveywhere. If we don't live up to our obligations as Americans, Latin America's corrupt ogliarchs will oppress right here in the land of the free.
So much ignorance all over the place. Since when are Latinos a race? There are black, white, east asian, indian (american), and mixed latinos. And since when do reporters have to match the genetic, national, or cultural make-up of the subjects they cover?
I DO NOT VIEW THIS ARTICLE AS RACIST AT ALL. IT IS GREAT THAT THIS WRITER BROUGHT THESE ISSUES TO THE PUBLIC EYE.PERHAPS THE WORD OF CHOICE IS WHAT BOTHERS OTHERS. THERE ARE OTHER AREAS OF THE CITY SUCH AS IN THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY WHERE SEVERAL "MASSAGE SPAS" SERVE AS UNDERCOVER SEX SERVICES. I MEAN, THIS IS HAPPENING EVERYWHERE! PERHAPS THESE AREAS CAN ALSO BE WRITTEN ABOUT. THIS CITY IS CHAOTIC AND REGARDLESS WHO WRITES THESE ARTICLES, WHAT CAN WE DO AS A SOCIETY TO MAKE IT A SAFER PLACE. THESE CRIMES ARE HIGHLY ORGANIZED AND IT IS SUCESSFUL IN A COMMUNITY WHERE IT IS HIGHLY SURROUNDED BY POVERTY AND CRIMES. THESE WOMEN ARE PROSTITUTING THEMSELVES BC THEY NEED MONEY! ITS ALL ABOUT MONEY AND POWER!
Why is it that when someone is bold enough to write about a problem affecting us in south LA all the others who don't live here and run away from this area scream racism. Then I beg you to let the casistas take their illegal activities to your neighborhoods. It's not just casistas, manhy of the illegal immigrants now have loud parties in their yards with flashing stobe lights keeping everybody up at night. The sole purpose of many of these activities is to sell drugs and alcohol. They charge people to come in and set up just like a club and the police never respond to noise complaints unless you tell them that there are gangs involved. We the decent, hardworking homeowners of south LA who did not run away from the city are suffering. So I don't want to hear any of you talk about racism. Let's talk about how this city council has sent our city into decay. Let's talk about the lack of police response to all these noisy parties in people's yards. WRITE ON LA WEEKLEY. AND I DON'T CARE ABOUT THE RACE OF THE WRITER. THANK GOD SOMEONE IS FINALLY ADDRESSING OUR PROBLEMS.
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I have lived in L.A. my whole life and sadly this story doesn't surprise me. Everyday I see my beloved city fall further into decay...schools, vandalism, illegal taco venders (not taco trucks) weekly yards sales by the same people..etc. Why should we tolerate this....we whom have lived here are whole lives are having our culture taken from us and turned into the 3rd world. I am also frustrated and tired of complaining with nobody to turn to...Nobody has a solution. This isn't about racism this is about QUALITY OF LIFE...
Yeah, and while your at it, lets put those "No Irish Need Apply" signs up and there'd be more jobs. And send all the Dagos back because they're all mafioso types and everybody knows it. Look at New Jersey for heavens sake.
We should reenact the "Sunset Laws", you know, the one where you have to be out of town before sunset if you of that particular color...
Move over baby, they ain't makin' new dirt and they just won't quit makin' new babies. The world is shrinking. Have a taco.
PS. I remember LA 50 years ago. It was ugly then too. Nothing seems to have changed much except the minds seem a little narrower.
I wish I could say I was surprised by the responses so far. The issue with the casitas as I see it isn't that folks go there to drink and hang out in a culturally appropriate way. It's the trafficking in women, guns and drugs. The associated violence and murders.
Whatever your cultural background, those make it a police matter, and Christene's incredibly well-written story shows not only that - but also the complexity and richness of the culture around them.
This article is disgusting. I am shocked that the LA Weekly allowed it. A complete lack of understanding of the culture and status of illegal aliens and hispanics in this country. These bars are illegal but it is an issue for zoning and the state beverage control and not the LAPD, state and federal agents. These "law agents" have wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax money for nothing. These cops should be protecting good citizens instead of busting illegals for minor drugs offenses. This country encouraged the illegals to come here and fails to properly deal with them now. Using military style police for this issue is crazy. The decriminalization of drugs, the deportation of illegals, and the proper clean up of our city would be a better article than trying to justify the police raids that accomplish nothing. The reporter tried to connect the horrible murder of the lady to the bars. The real story is the failure of the govt in being able to identify aliens in this country and track them and control their deportation.
Racism is judging a someone by their race, as the previous commentator does by insinuating that only latinos can accurately or fairly write about latinos issues and that an on point headline by an anglo is "racist".
As explained in the story these "casitas" ARE south of the border style. They are set-up and run in the same manner as small bars in other countries. That these actions legal or tolerated in Latin America are neither legal nor tolerated (sometimes) in this country is a symptom of the clash of cultures, but not of any kind of racism.
Those most racist themselves always find others to be racist just as theives think everyone around them is also a thief.
I know South American culture and I can confirm Casitas do exist. But so do so many other businesses, they and the casitas must be called "home grown". Thereare the little juice vendors or a barbecue taco or anticucho stands. They are the guy who repairs tires in the yard of his home or the woman who repairs bicycles and sells used ones. Call it a clash of cultures if you wish, but I call it a clash of the taxing agencies.
The "culture" of home grown mom and pop businesses only got squeezed out in the 1950s. I knew a man with a fruit stand, the fellow who had an ice box on the back of a Model A pickup and satisfied the neighborhood kids ice cream jones, and it was his wife who made the ice cream. Tax is what it's all about and the shock and disgust and fear mongering put out by those who would control would be humorous if it weren't so pathetic.
You've read about city governments who stopped people from growing food in their own yards. There's a guy living in a suburban area who got busted because he had a few chickens out in the country. The city even changed the zoning laws to screw with him because he had the temerity to tell them to stick it.
Now, even a couple of little girls selling lemonade are subject to the Big Brother mentality that is quickly ruining this country. But the casitas are more than "criminal activity" they represent a resilient humanity dealing with an economy made by bad tax laws that export jobs and crush the life out of anyone who opposes them. There are tax laws that allow corporations to deduct the money they owe "US" and divert it into political coffers. Everything else runs on OUR money because corporations pay very little tax or none at all.
The corporate homogenizing of America is in full press. We are allowing government to control every aspect of our lives. I say, let people survive as long as they don't hurt anyone else. The casitas open after hours hurt no one. That you can buy a joint or rent a hooker may be shocking but you can do the same thing at most any hotel in Vegas.
This is about selective enforcement. I say until they start busting criminal bankers on Wall Street, they have no right to enforce anything. That's why people are having to do anything they can to survive and government is criminalizing life.
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THESE STORIES ARE WHAT HAPPEN WHEN THE LA WEEKLY HAS NO LATINO WRITERS OR STAFFERS. "SOUTH-OF-THE-BORDER-STYLE"? GIVE ME A BREAK!!! BRING BACK LAURIE OCHOA!!!
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