May 21, 2009
By Michael Webster
Syndicated Investigative Reporter
U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien, stated at a news conference today that these arrests were the “largest gang takedown in United States history.” The notorious Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang was targeted following the murder of Los Angeles sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Ortiz four years ago. The early morning raids were aimed at 88 reputed gang members who were among 147 named in five federal racketeering indictments which accuses the southern Los Angeles County street gang with numerous felony crimes, including killing a sheriff’s deputy, murder, attempted murder, drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, witness intimidation and committing hate crimes against African Americans.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s LA office, the gang investigation began in 2005 after sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Ortiz was fatally shot while conducting an interview in Hawaiian Gardens, a largely Latino city east and north of Long Beach California.
The Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang member who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death remains on death row. Authorities said many of the gang members ware devils’ horns tattooed on their foreheads. Authorities believe the gang was formed in the 1950s with just a few members and started out with low level street robberies, drug dealings and turf wars with other gangs. Today the gang has over a 1,000 members in California operating in Hawaiian Gardens and prisons throughout California. Many of the current members are believed Mexican nationals who have migrated to the area and have taken up illegal alien status. This group has since escalated its level of violence carrying out hits and kidnappings on behalf of the MDC’s. The gang is accused of particularly brazen acts, such as scrawling “187,” the California penal code designation for homicide, on a Sheriff’s Department patrol car.
The gang has deep connections with the Mexican Drug Cartels from where most if not all their drugs come from said a high ranking federal officer who wants to remain anonymous.
According to the indictment it alleges that gang members made several attacks on African Americans, most of them shootings. In one incident, a gang member is accused of using a racial epithet against an African American, yelling at him to “get out of town” and then attacking him with a garden rake. The indictment says one gang member was heard bragging about the slaying of Deputy Ortiz, saying the killing of a cop had put the gang “back on the map.”
The gang member’s monikers are names like “Slasher, Shady, Diablo and Menace. The gang has boasted about being racist, referring to themselves as “The Hate Gang,” according to the193-page federal court document. “VHG gang members have expressed a desire to rid the city of Hawaiian Gardens of all African Americans and have engaged in a systematic effort to achieve that result by perpetrating crimes” against them, the document states.
The indictment details 476 “overt acts” that prosecutors say gang members committed as part of the alleged racketeering conspiracy between 1996 and 2009. The alleged crimes include the dealing of Mexican methamphetamine, heroin and crack, and the slaying of a fellow gang member suspected of being a police snitch.
“A year and a half ago I announced a major federal indictment that charged 102 members of the Valencia 13 street gang here in Los Angeles,” O’Brien said at a news conference at the sheriff’s Lakewood Station.
“At that time it was the largest federal gang sweep in history and caused a significant impact on a South Los Angeles street gang in this community,” he said. “Today I’m here to announce an even larger sweep, something that is certain to have a tremendous and positive impact on the city of Hawaiian Gardens.”
He said about 1,400 law enforcement officials, including members of 17 separate SWAT teams, fanned out across Hawaiian Gardens and nearby communities to arrest 88 people linked to a gang that has plagued the area for 50 years.
“Today’s arrests stem from a series of federal indictments that charge 147 separate defendants, making this operation the largest federal gang sweep in the history of the Department of Justice,” he said.
Central to the case is a racketeering indictment against 57 leaders and members of Barrio Hawaiian Gardens, which O’Brien called a criminal enterprise.
Ortiz, a 35-year-old member of the anti-gang detail at the Lakewood Station, was gunned down on June 24, 2005, while investigating a shooting at a Hawaiian Gardens home.
In May 2007, 29-year-old gang member Jose Orozco was sentenced to death for Ortiz’s murder.
The multi-agency operation included personnel from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
DA Cooley in 2005 said Jose Luis Orozco was charged with murdering the 35-year-old deputy on June 24 outside a Hawaiian Gardens apartment. The complaint alleged three special circumstances which made Orozco eligible for the death penalty: murder of a peace officer during performance of his duties, lying in wait and murder to avoid arrest.
“Deputy Ortiz was killed while investigating a shooting in which the defendant was a suspect,” Cooley said at a news conference at the Bellflower courthouse. “He was shot in the head and left dying on the ground while his killer ran away and tried to hide.
“Law enforcement officers like Deputy Ortiz are the last line of defense between criminals and the law-abiding citizens they protect. When one is killed, all of us lose. We will not let their killers go unpunished,” the District Attorney said.
Orozco, 27, was found hiding in a house a few doors away from the shooting some hours after Deputy Ortiz was slain.
At the time “The defendant’s custody status gave Sheriff’s detectives and prosecutors in the Crimes Against Police Officers Section (CAPOS) additional time to fully investigate the murder and the case on which Deputy Ortiz was working when he was killed,” Cooley said. “Having time to do the fullest investigation possible results in a stronger criminal case.”
The defendant, who lived in Hawaiian Gardens and also is known by the street moniker of Sepe the defendant personally, used a handgun to commit the crime.
The complaint also alleged two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon for the June 24 murder of Ortiz and on June 20, when a man was shot and wounded in Hawaiian Gardens. It was that shooting that Deputy Ortiz was investigating when he was killed.
Deputy Ortiz was shot to death outside an apartment in the 12000 block of East 223rd Street. The deputy was with the Sheriff’s gang enforcement unit and was investigating the June 20 shooting. Authorities said he spotted Orozco shortly after 3 p.m. and chased him to the apartment. Why the officer was alone and apparently had no back up is unclear. The killer was hiding behind the apartment’s front door and surprised Ortiz.
The defendant was arrested five buildings away on 223rd Street shortly before midnight. A .38-caliber revolver believed to be the murder weapon was recovered.
Orozco also was charged with one count of attempted willful, deliberate, premeditated murder in connection with the June 20 shooting. The victim was shot while doing yard work at a home in the 22000 block of Joliet Avenue. He was hit in the back, but survived.
The complaint charged that the June 20 shooting was for furtherance of a street gang. The complaint also alleged prior convictions including auto burglary, possession of a firearm by a felon and resisting and executive officer.