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The Honorable Debra Yang
United States Attorney
COMBATING GANG VIOLENCE
SEPTEMBER 17, 2003
Combating Gang Violence
Violent crime and narcotics distribution by street gangs is a significant, long-term problem in the Central District of California. In Los Angeles County alone, conservative estimates put the number of separate street gangs at approximately 1,000 and the number of individual street gang members at approximately 150,000. In addition, there are approximately 20,000 gang members in Orange County and comparable numbers of street gangs and street gang members exist for Ventura and San Bernardino Counties. Gangs are considered the driving force for the homicide rate in my District, and it is believed that fully half of all gang members in my District participate in violence and/or the use and distribution of illegal narcotics. Indeed, the homicide rate in Los Angeles was probably one of the highest in the nation last year. Furthermore, Los Angeles is what is known as a "source city" for both illegal narcotics and gangs, meaning that Los Angeles-based gangs have migrated to other communities across the country, as well as to Central America. For example, members and cliques of the Los Angeles- based 18th Street Gang have migrated all over California, the Southwest Border and Pacific Northwest states, New Jersey and even Mexico and El Salvador. My Office's prosecutors have also tracked Los Angeles-based gang members to cities all over the United States, including Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Raleigh, and St. Louis, to name only a few.
As I noted, the case marked my District's first use of RICO against the highly organized, highly mobile and extremely violent 18th Street Gang. The result was 24 federal convictions, crippling the Columbia Lil' Cycos ("CLCS") clique of the 18th Street Gang. In addition, approximately $2,000,000 in narcotics proceeds were seized and forfeited to the government, including luxury cars and homes, as well as caches of cash and jewelry. Most importantly, these efforts had a positive effect on the quality of life in the MacArthur Park area of Los Angeles, a large, two-mile square, multi-ethnic community in the heart of the city where the CLCS engaged in their criminal activities.
An even more recent example of a joint effort by federal and local law enforcement to target a violent organized street gang as an enterprise is my Office's current effort, in coordination with the FBI and LAPD, to target the powerful criminal partnership between two rival street gangs in the neighborhoods of the South Central and Central areas of Los Angeles. Using wiretaps and surveillance, among other techniques, the FBI, LAPD, and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department conducted this investigation in coordination with my Office for nearly two years, leading to a federal and state take-down on June 26, 2003, that netted over 28 leaders, members and associates of the twin gangs. These members of these gangs had terrorized their respective communities, such as the Pueblo Del Rio housing project in Los Angeles, for years with a vice-like grip on the drug trade in their communities. The gang members backed up that iron grip with the ever present shadow of violence, both real and threatened. The 28 defendants are now charged with federal and state crimes, including drug distribution, conspiracy charges and felon in possession charges, as well as fraud and identity theft violations. My Office anticipates extensive litigation on these cases for the next several months.
In our district, we have found that the most successful approach is to focus our efforts on certain geographical areas that have high rates of gun and other violent crime, which is typically related to street gang activity. Within those areas, we are pursuing a five-pronged approach to investigating and prosecuting gun and gang violence. First, because federal sentencing guidelines often provide for longer sentences for firearms offenders, we are prosecuting federally appropriate gun cases arising from arrests by local police officers and sheriff's deputies. Second, we are pursuing with federal and local investigators proactive gang investigations and prosecutions designed to disrupt gangs and imprison gang members who generate so much gun violence. Third, we are working with other prosecutorial agencies to prosecute felons and others who lie on background check forms. Fourth, we have begun what we call our "Untouchables" program, which combines the efforts of white-collar criminal investigators from a number of federal agencies with those of local police officers to undertake financial investigations of known high-level gang leaders who are otherwise escaping prosecution, with the expectation that federal prosecutions of these gang leaders may result. Finally, we are working closely with intensive federal law enforcement initiatives that flood high-crime areas with federal agents from time-to- time.
My Office also is expanding its efforts to prevent gang and gun violence by increasing our involvement with community organizations and providing support to community efforts to combat the problem. Our prosecutors participate in community meetings to solicit community input and to demonstrate our office's commitment to improving the community. We meet with school administrators to identify ways in which to address the violence problem and we send prosecutors into classrooms to meet with students on a variety of topics. Each of these activities is designed to communicate important messages to community members or to assist us to be responsive to community needs. But in addition to these benefits, and together with Weed and Seed programs that allow us to create positive programs in the community, this kind of community outreach helps to lessen the mistrust and hostility that sometimes exists between community members and law enforcement in some of the areas of my district most affected by gangs and violent crime.
In addition to investigating and prosecuting gang-related crimes, we are also working to facilitate and strengthen efforts by government and non-governmental groups to prevent and deter violence. These efforts include efforts to deter gun crime by communicating the consequences of gun violence for offenders, victims families, and others, as well as efforts to give juveniles the motivation and tools to avoid involvement in gun violence.
The recent twin gang indictments, which I mentioned earlier, like the 18th Street and Mexican Mafia convictions, were the product of an intensive dedication of human and technological resources. Gang cases and anti-gang programs of the size and scope I have described provide Assistant United States Attorneys in my District with the most rewarding opportunities for public service imaginable. As always, state and local authorities will continue to prosecute the gang soldiers for their violent crimes, but they inform me that they are operating at full capacity. At the Federal level, we will continue to reach beyond the soldiers and target the gang leaders, captains, shot-callers and self-styled Godfathers who control and profit from the gang menace, and we will continue to provide much needed support to the hard-working law enforcement personnel who are dedicated to eradicating the problem of gang violence.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for you time and attention. I would be pleased to answer any questions that you might have.