House Party: Notorious Drew Street Home Demolished


Police Chief Bill Bratton, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and City Councilman Eric Garcetti, along with dozens of police officers, undercover agents and city workers, gathered in Glassell Park Wednesday to celebrate the demolition of a notorious drug house once owned and operated by Avenues gangsters.

Dubbed the "Satellite House" because of a large TV satellite dish on its roof, 3304 Drew Street was long considered the epicenter of the local narcotics trade and headquarters of Maria "Chata" Leon, the reputed matriarch of a large family of drug-dealing gangsters.

Drug House: Before

For more than two decades, until her arrest in 2008 by federal authorities,

Leon lived in the modest, northeast Los Angeles home with her 13

children -- a huge brood that included alleged Avenues gangsters Jose

Leon, Danny Leon, Nicolas Real, Randy Martinez, Francisco Real and

Jesus Martinez, who were all fixtures on Drew Street, a neighborhood

isolated by the Glendale Freeway to the southeast, and by Forest Lawn

cemetery to the north and west.

In October of 2002, after years

of trouble connected with the Leon house, Glendale Police arrested Leon

for narcotics sales and child endangerment when officers found

automatic weapons and explosives stashed throughout the home.

Drug House: After

Then,

in 2003, a local man was shot to death in the Leon front yard -- an

apparent drug deal gone bad. In another creepy twist, once inside Maria

Leon's home, cops discovered a shrine to the patron saint of narco

trafficking, Jesus Malverde, a folklore hero in crime-ridden Sinaloa,

Mexico. Danny Leon and his half-brother, Francisco Real, were later

convicted of accessory to murder in the killing.

In 2005, the

City Attorney's Office filed a public nuisance lawsuit and a judge

issued a permanent injunction that prevented 57 gang members, including

Maria Leon's own family, from congregating within 150 feet of the

address. Venturing inside the home, members of the city attorney's

office found a veritable fortress: gadgetry straight out of a James

Bond movie, including  surveillance cameras and a laser tripwire system.

There were no takers when the house went up for sale, so two years ago

the city barricaded the property. In another twist (this time set a

2007 court hearing and seemingly borrowed from an episode of The Wire),

Francisco Leon took a Los Angeles deputy city attorney aside and

offered to pay the outstanding judgment on the house in cash --

immediately -- if he were allowed to run out and get the money right

away. All the prosecutor had to do was top the proceedings. The deputy

city attorney declined the offer.

Neighbors watching from a distance

At

the same time, Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety issued

abatement orders against numerous code violations at the house, and

city inspectors noticed that someone had tried to remove the home's

floor boards. Deputy City Attorney Nick Karno told the L.A. Weekly that

rumors swirled that $80,000 cash was buried there. Last April, Building

and Safety Commissioners finally declared the house a "public nuisance."

Last June, Leon and several of her extended brood were arrested under a federal racketeering indictment naming 70 defendants for murder, extortion, home invasion and witness intimidation.

Delgadillo

seemed positively giddy Wednesday that the long ordeal was ending. He

told reporters that the Drew Street property was a "terrifying monument

to the power of the Avenues [gang]." Delgadillo, who says he was

harassed by the Avenues gangsters as a kid when he attended nearby

Irving Middle School, says that 3304 Drew Street had such special

meaning to the gangsters that some tattooed a replica of the house on

their bodies.

City officials told the Weekly that

today's demolition crew wanted to set up the night before but were

warned against it because the city attorney's office feared for the

workers' safety. Instead, the work  crew waited for the politicians to

finish a 30-minute press conference set on a street where graffiti

covers sidewalks, curbs, pavement, buildings -- even the neglected

trees.

Bratton stood quietly next to Garcetti while neighbors

watched from a distance behind yellow crime scene tape and

photographers snapped photos of Maria Leon's sons' names -- eerily

immortalized in concrete near the house's front porch.  

"When

you shoot at my police officers all bets are off," said Bratton, a

reference to a violent incident a year ago, when three Avenues

gangsters opened fire on LAPD officers after they shot to death

36-year-old Marcos Salas as he was walking with his two-year-old

granddaughter near Aragon Avenue Elementary School in Cypress Park.

Danny

Leon, brandishing an AK-47 rifle at police, was gunned down during the

exchange of gunfire, and Leon's cousin, Jose Gomez, 18, was wounded and

later charged with two counts of murder and attempted murder.

Then, in December, L.A. Weekly broke the news

that one of the two men accused of the  execution-style murder of L.A.

County Sheriff's Deputy Juan Abel Escalante as he prepared to leave his

home for work, was also believed perpetrated by a member of Maria

Leon's extended crime family.

Jose Gomez' 24-year-old brother,

Carlos "Stoney" Velasquez, and Guillermo "Pee Wee" Hernandez, 20, were

arrested for the murder of Escalante, who had been shot about five

times in the head outside his family's home near the 3400 block of

Thorpe Avenue in Cypress Park on August 2.

Not everyone gathered for Wednesday's press conference and demolition was in the mood to celebrate.

"They

destroyed a group of memories," said Bobby, a young male Hispanic who

didn't want to give his full name. He justified the Leons' criminal

reign by insisting, "It is not like we grew up in a rich area. My mom

is broke. The house was not a symbol for the gang. It was a way to make

money. It is the way they grew up . . . It is the only way they knew

how to live."

Another neighbor, Michelle, who didn't want to

give her last name, said she and her daughter don't feel safe now that

the local enforcers are gone. "You don't know who is out here now," she

said.

"If someone bothers you, you talk to someone in the

neighborhood," said Bobby, illuminating how deeply Drew Street had

fallen into gangster hands. "If someone stole from you, it would be

handled. It was like a neighborhood watch. We don't call the cops. We

beat up people." 

 All photos by Christine Pelisek


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