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Friday, 1 July 2011

Gang sweep nets 10 Pacoima Project Boys

22:37 |

SWAT teams armed with arrest warrants raided 11 locations in the San Fernando Valley and Palmdale, the suspects' faces were crossed out, one by one.

By the time "Operation Double Header" was over, 10 alleged key players associated with the violent Pacoima Project Boys were in custody on suspicion of illegally selling guns and operating a sophisticated methamphetamine trafficking ring.

Four additional suspects were previously arrested as part of the operation - a nearly two-year investigation that involved wiretaps, undercover officers and surveillance. Four suspects remain at large.

"This is a significant step in breaking the cycle of violence," said Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese, head of the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Bureau. "Our effort is to cut the head off."

Those arrested are among 18 suspects charged with operating a sophisticated ring that supplied methamphetamine to Pacoima gangs, using coded messages to communicate, according to the FBI.

During Thursday's raids, authorities seized more than $10,000 cash, three handguns, two shotguns and three

rifles, plus ammunition, gun modification parts, three bags of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
One child was taken by social workers, who opened investigations at several other locations.

Investigators also discovered multiple extortion schemes and information on four murders, according to the FBI. No details on those cases were available.

Pacoima Project Boys were targeted by a court injunction issued in 2001 that prohibits members from gathering in public. To subvert the injunction, the Project Boys merged with the neighboring Pacoima Flats gang and became the Project Flats, according to the FBI.

Members of Project Boys, which formed in the San Fernando Gardens housing project in the 1980 s, are responsible for murders, attempted murders, carjacking, rapes, robberies and arms sales, officials said.

The group is heavily influenced by the Mexican Mafia, which controls gang and drug activity by collecting "taxes" in the Pacoima area, officials said.

Project Boys have been responsible for several recent shootings, said LAPD Lt. James Roberts, the head of the gang impact team at Foothill Division.

Despite a citywide drop in crime, violent crime is up 5 percent in Foothill compared to the same period last year. Assaults and the number of shots fired have spiked dramatically in June compared to May, with 11 shooting victims reported.

Gang members may have moved out of the area to escape the injunction, but still consider the San Fernando Gardens their turf and continue their activity there, Roberts said.

"Their activities have been severely diminished," he said, "but it's still going on."

Separately, LAPD also conducted checks on eight of the gang's members who are on probation in the hope of sending a strong message to the rest.

"It's, 'Guess what? We're paying attention to you, too,'" Albanese said. "Really, it's about trying to communicate to them in the only way we think they understand - that if you persist with violence in the community, you're going to see a lot of us."

In 2004, gang members intimidated families living in the projects to a point where the families had to be relocated on an emergency basis. Police foot patrols were then assigned to the projects to clamp down on gang activity.

Those types of patrols will be used again, Albanese said.

Thursday was not the first time city and federal authorities have targeted the gang - hence the name of the operation. In 2009, arrest warrants were served after 24 members were indicted on federal charges.

Officials hope the new arrests, coupled with the previous operation, will send a message to the 250-member Pacoima gang.

"Could there be a third (operation)? Absolutely," Albanese said. "If it's needed, we won't be shy about initiating it. I'd like to think that the membership would see what happened today ... and see that we are really serious, and that they better behave."


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