There are no hard figures on whether crime against the county's uncountable street vendors has gone up during the recession, but occasionally there are glimmers of the tough life they endure. Many in places like L.A.'s MacArthur Park neighborhood are forced to pay protection money to gangs and some are randomly targeted for robbery. On the morning of February 27 Cosme Gonzalez, a popular and longtime vendor in Westlake, the area that encompasses MacArthur Park, was gunned down on Witmer Street as he sold tamales from his car.
The man who killed Gonzalez remains at large, but today, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, another kind of vendor predator got the book thrown at him. Nicolas Zavala Morales, 49, had been arrested last July after he'd taken cash from street peddlers in L.A. and Pico Rivera while impersonating either a sheriff's deputy or a health inspector. His M.O. had been to quickly flash a badge or official-looking I.D. before robbing the sellers — immigrants who mostly spoke only Spanish. A two-strike felon, Morales received a 35-year-to-life sentence from Norwalk Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio for the thefts and impersonating a public officer.