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Taking Down the Vineland Boyz

Eight local and federal law-enforcement agents loudly knocked four times on the door of a two-story condo complex in a middle-class neighborhood of Van Nuys before dawn Tuesday. When no one came to the door, officers kicked it in and rousted awake 28-year-old Jose “Crusty” Cardoza, an alleged associate of the Vineland Boyz street gang.

“I think they were still in REM mode,” said Anthony Burke, supervisory inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service, who participated with some 600 local and federal law-enforcement officers in the latest crackdown on the gang suspected in two cop killings. “We let him dress and put his shirt and shoes on. He didn’t resist arrest. The whole thing took about 30 or 40 minutes. They are like us. They like to live in nice places too. It was a nice neighborhood.”

Tuesday’s sweep, code-named “Operation Swift Intruder,” marked the third time in less than a month that authorities went after the Vineland Boyz and its associates. They made 21 arrests and say most of the suspects are mid-level narcotics distributors living in the San Fernando Valley and Palmdale. Also confiscated: two weapons, $43,000 in cash, 18 cars, and some methamphetamines, cocaine and marijuana.

Since the raids began, police have arrested more than 325 people, including Burbank City Councilwoman Stacey Jo Murphy and her boyfriend Scott Schaffer on suspicion of narcotics and firearms violations. Authorities have found more than $1 million and 75 firearms and 300 pounds of methamphetamines and heroin since the 19-month investigation began.

“Dismantling a group is a long process,” said LAPD Deputy Chief Mike Hillmann of the 259-member Vineland Boyz. “We will make this county a safer community.”

“Gangs are definitely on the target list,” added Burke. “Certain things will bring it to the top of the pile. The violence of the crimes alone will bring a gang to the top.”

In this case, it was the murder of two police officers. “That was certainly the catalyst that got it going,” said LAPD Lieutenant Paul Vernon.

Founded in the 1980s by members of a San Fernando Valley–area football team, the Vineland Boyz first caught police attention in 1988 when LAPD Officer James Beyea was killed in a confrontation with a 17-year-old suspected member in North Hollywood during a burglary investigation. The campaign to dismantle the gang became a top priority on November 15, 2003, when rookie Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka was fatally wounded in a shootout with alleged gang member David Garcia in a parking lot at the Ramada Inn near the Bob Hope Airport. The gang calls the San Fernando Valley communities of Sylmar, Sunland and Burbank home.

Cardoza, an alleged member of the Reseda Trece street gang, along with 20 others, was named in the 45-page federal narcotics-conspiracy indictment, which accused the suspected gang members and their associates of violating federal drug and weapons laws. The indictment, based on six months of wiretaps in 2004, alleges they used coded language to make drug transactions, provided contracting services in exchange for narcotics and tried to ship a box containing about 705 grams of methamphetamines to a confidential informant in Hawaii. They’re also accused of trying to set up a corporation to launder drug money and provide an associate with $200,000 to start a car-sales company.