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Food Truck Justice: Miguel Morales and Dainler Baquevano Charged with Extorting "Rent" from Vendors

Recently, it seems that food trucks have been getting the shaft.

First, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved restaurant-style letter grades, meaning pesky health inspections for the mobile eateries.

And earlier this month, a band of Abbot Kinney store owners tried to keep the trucks from slinging hash during First Fridays.

On Thursday, however, food trucks received a touch of justice when a pair of apparent gang members were arraigned on charges related to extorting and vandalizing trucks and their vendors.

According to the Los Angeles DA, Miguel Morales, 19, and Dainler Baquevano, 24, pleaded not guilty to six counts of attempted extortion and one count of vandalism for allegedly trying to force food truck vendors in the 77th Street area to pay them $50 a week in "rent." This supposedly took place between November 1 and December 17.

Vendors who refused to pay, says the DA, were threatened. One vendor supposedly had a rock thrown through the front windshield of his truck.

Morales and Baquevano were apparently conducting their little operation on behalf of, or in association with, the 18th Street gang, says the DA's office. Both men had prior criminal records, says the DA. Morales was convicted of robbery in March and Baquevano was convicted in 2005 for taking a vehicle.

In addition to the extortion charges in this most recent caper, police charged Morales with two counts of criminal threats for allegedly using a handgun while dealing with the food truck vendors.

Morales and Baquevano are scheduled to appear in court on January 26 for a preliminary hearings, according to the DA.

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