A federal district court judge yesterday sentenced the alleged matriarch of a well-connected family of drug-dealing gangsters to eight years in prison. Maria “Chata” Leon plead guilty to two counts of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.

“The culpability of this defendant is very great,” said Judge A. Howard Matz to Leon, who was wearing a white prison jumpsuit and green jacket, at the 3 p.m. sentencing hearing.

Leon's attorney Mark Kassabian asked the judge to show leniency toward his client because of the alleged abuse she suffered as a child and the death of her son Danny Leon in February 2008. “Ms. Leon has lost a great deal,” said Kassabian.

What Leon and her extended family “did to other people created much

more suffering,” said Matz. “This case isn't about illegal entry . . .

The series of crimes go way beyond immigration offenses and they are

very serious. Many of them.”

A pony-tailed and shackled Leon, with the help of a translator, asked the judge to forgive her.

Last June, police and more than 500 federal agents arrested 28

alleged members of the Drew Street clique of the Avenues in Glassell

Park under a federal racketeering indictment, naming 70 defendants

including Leon for murder, extortion, home invasion and witness


Twenty-six of the gang members who were indicted were already in

local and federal custody, including Leon, who was picked up for

illegal entry into the United States by immigration officers on April

15, 2008.

The indictment of Leon and her extended family, including her sons

Jose Martinez, Jesus Martinez, Francisco and Nicolas Real for mostly

drug-related charges was a huge coup for local law enforcement

officials who spent years trying to break up the control the family had

over the Drew Street community in Northeast Los Angeles.

“She was at the center of an organization with her family and as it

grew it became more dangerous,” said Assistant United States Attorney

Christopher Brunwin. “She has the responsibility for fostering the


According to law enforcement sources, Leon moved from Guerrero State

to Drew Street around 1985. The petite, 5-foot 2-inch toughie had 13

kids, including Jose Leon, Danny Leon, Nicolas Real, Francisco Real,

and Jesus Martinez — all of whom grew up on Drew Street, and attended

Fletcher Drive Elementary and Washington Irving Middle schools.

Leon's arrests included theft in 1986; burglary in Riverside County

in 1986, and extortion and drug arrests in 1994. She was convicted of

two felonies in 1995 and 1997, and by 1998 was one of the first Avenues

gangsters supervised by the probation department as part of the CLEAR

gang task force, which was inspired by the horrible 1995 murder of

three-year-old Stephanie Kuhen after her parents made a wrong turn in

their car and ended up in Avenues gang territory.

Leon was busted again in 2002 when the Glendale Police Department

executed a search warrant on the longtime Leon home on Drew Street.

Leon was arrested for narcotics sales and child endangerment after

officers found automatic weapons and explosives throughout the house.

Leon was released from state prison in 2006 and was immediately

deported by immigration officials. She was picked up again in April of

2008 on Drew Street. Leon told the judge that she returned to Drew

Street to bury her son Danny who died in a gun battle with Los Angeles

Police Department gang officers last February.

Her Drew Street house – long considered the epicenter of the local

narcotic trade – was targeted by the City Attorney's Office as a

nuisance abatement property after guns and drugs were found inside. The

house was demolished in February at a splashy press conference held by

Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton and City Attorney Rocky


LA Weekly