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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
"If someone bothers you, you talk to someone in the
neighborhood," said Bobby, illuminating how deeply Drew Street had
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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