George Robert Lopez, a 41-year-old leader of the notorious Venice 13 gang who goes by "Trippy," was finally put behind bars last week.
But given this guy's reputation, and the massive joint sting operation it took to bring him down (led by the ATF and the LAPD last winter/spring), his charges are on the weak side.
Lopez was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for...
... "[providing] a firearm to co-defendant Cesar P. Rios, a previously convicted felon and also a documented Venice 13 gang member," according to the ATF's Los Angeles division. (As for Rios: Last summer, he was sentenced to about four years in federal prison.)
More on the investigation, via the Daily Breeze:
Using wire and electronic surveillance taps, agents found that Lopez gave a .22 caliber bolt-action rifle gave to another top Venice 13 gang member, Cesar Rios, 39, of Los Angeles.
The weapon allegedly belonged to Lopez' brother. Authorities said Lopez believed police were investigating his brother for a previous murder and that his home in the 4400 block of West 170th Street Lawndale would be searched, so he gave the gun to Rios. The rifle, loaded with 12 rounds, did not have a serial number.
Venice 13 is one of L.A.'s oldest and most violent gangs, infamous for allegedly collaborating with the Mexican mafia and peddling drugs to upscale beach dwellers. When authorities initiated the sting in late 2010, they aimed to corner gang members for "extortion, drug dealing and firearms trafficking," the Breeze reports.
For the months-long operation, investigators actually set up a fake tattoo parlor in Venice called "Villainz Ink."
What we wouldn't have given for a peek inside that ATF-constructed movie set! Although ATF Special Agent Torres originally spewed off some awesome interior-decorating details to the LA Weekly, the agency later begged us to take them off our news blog, so as not to compromise the effectiveness of future stings. (Boo.)
But here's what we did find out, for our print story on the sting:
- Nestled between is 2811 Venice Blvd., a somewhat tattered-looking, empty shop that not long ago was home to a federal undercover operation masquerading as the tattoo parlor Villainz Ink. The elaborate sting, a collaboration between the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and Los Angeles law enforcement agencies, was unveiled to the public on May 4. The sting caught up a large bunch of alleged bad actors, and resulted in 19 arrests.
- ATF Special Agent John Torres confirmed to L.A. Weekly that the storefront operated as a tattoo parlor and that customers were inked by nonagents.
- Josh Salas, now a piercer at the Insane Sin Tattoo Parlor on nearby Lincoln Boulevard, at one point actually went to the feds' storefront looking for a job, but it wasn't open that day. There was a skull design in the front window and a green sign that read "Villainz Ink." Inside were two old-fashioned barber or dentist chairs along a black counter.
- The local tattoo artists and some Venice residents believe, in retrospect, that the law enforcement agencies must have conducted extensive research and hired outside tattoo artists nobody knew.
Anyway, it seems the U.S. District Attorney's Office really had to stretch to get Venice 13 leader Lopez behind bars. But whatever it takes, right? (See also: "Valley Gangster Gets 6 Years for Stealing Little Girl's Puppy.")
From the looks of Lopez' MySpace profile, he has a long family history rooted in Venice 13. Here are some photos from what we think to be the convict's page, apparently of himself, friends or family members: