Thanks to the sting, 19 perceived gang members, many of the Venice 13 gang -- struggling to survive in a rapidly gentrifying ghetto beach town turned arty celeb hotspot -- are behind bars today.
"[Villainz Ink] was an undercover operation made to look like a tattoo parlor," says ATF special agent John Torres.
[Updated to exclude details about the parlor, for purposes of future ATF effectiveness.]
Yes, Villainz employees actually tattooed their customers. But Torres says federal agents didn't dabble in the ink -- more just "posed as members of that element out there."
Venice 13, a Latino gang, has a history of heavy narcotics trafficking along the Venice Beach boardwalk and the low-income (yet ever more infringed upon by surrounding affluence) Oaktown area just to the east. They're known to be involved with the Mexican mafia, which makes for a steady flow of illegal firearms, as well.
From the ATF press release:
ATF, in partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), Pacific Division, initiated an investigation targeting Venice/Culver City-area criminal street gangs known by investigators to engage in firearms-related offenses and narcotics trafficking. ATF set up and maintained an undercover storefront in the Venice area of Los Angeles, known, according to law enforcement, to be controlled primarily by "Venice 13" (also known as Venice Trece) criminal street gang members. The ATF storefront, operated by ATF undercover agents, successfully attracted a number of suspected criminal street gang members and associates who in the course of the four-month investigation sold illegal narcotics, committed numerous firearms violations, and sold a firearm to an ATF undercover agent.
Among the names in the federal criminal complaint (listed, below) are many alleged gang members who don't actually live in Venice; due to rising rent, it seems much of the area's remaining gang activity comes in from the outside these days.