A multi-agency task force of 500 law enforcement officers swooped down on members of the avenues gang on Drew Street early this morning. The crackdown netted 32 members or associates of the “Drew Street” clique of the avenues.

The operation, which began at 4 a.m., stemmed from a massive 157-page federal racketeering indictment targeting 70 members of the gang who lived on Drew Street in northeast Los Angeles. Federal and local law enforcement officers served 25 federal search warrants, and picked up 32 avenues gang members and associates in the pre-dawn raids. Twenty-six of the gang members who were indicted were already in local and federal custody including Maria “Chatta” Leon who is reputed to be the matriarch of a large family of drug-dealing gang members.

Her son, Francisco “Pancho” Real, the leader of the gang and the lead defendant in the indictment, was arrested along with some of his brothers. According to prosecutors, Mexican Mafia members authorized Francisco Real to take control of the area last summer.

Guns confiscated during the raid

“This gang is exactly like the Mafia,” said Los Angeles Police Department Chief William Bratton who stood next to United States Attorney Tom O’Brien and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo during a noon press conference at a federal building downtown. “They are the Mafia.”

United States Attorney Tom O'Brien and Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton at the noon press conference.

Sixteen of the gang members indicted are still-at-large.

The arrests capped off a six-month investigation by the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force and the Los Angeles Police Department. The investigation began after northeast area gang detectives asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office for help combating the crime around Drew Street that had been run by members of the Leon family for years.

The area, known for years as the spot to by drugs, gained notoriety in February when members of the Avenues gang gunned down 36-year-old Marcos Salas, an alleged former Cypress Park gang member, who was walking with his two-year-old granddaughter near Aragon Elementary School. Undercover LAPD officers followed the Avenues gang members to Drew Street. The gang members got out of their car and engaged in a shootout with LAPD officers. Maria Leon’s son Danny, who was wielding an AK-47, was killed by the officers. The resulting standoff shut down dozens of blocks of Northeast Los Angeles for six hours.

The indictment alleged a host of brutal crimes including murders, attacks against two police officers in 2003, drug trafficking, extortion of local businesses, carjackings, home invasion robberies and witness intimidation.

The Drew Street hood and gangsters

In addition to the federal indictment, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office filed 10 nuisance abatement lawsuits against property owners on Drew Street and one located a block away on Chapman Street.

Twenty-eight firearms including a high-powered assault rifle, a house in Victorville, a couple of vehicles and $30,000 were confiscated in the pre-dawn raid.

Taking part in the operation were the Los Angeles and Glendale police departments, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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