JAN 15 (LOS ANGELES) - A “keyholder” who oversaw the criminal activities of the Azusa 13 street gang and its long-running plot to violate the civil rights of African-Americans in the City of Azusa was sentenced to 235 months in federal prison.
Santiago Rios, also known as “Chico,” 48, was the lead defendant in a federal racketeering indictment that targeted the Azusa 13 criminal enterprise. In June 2011, a federal grand jury returned a 24-count indictment that charged a total of 51 defendants with a host of crimes, including conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and conspiracy to violate the civil rights of African-Americans. Rios, who was the keyholder – or ultimate leader – of the gang in 2008 and 2009, pleaded guilty in May 2012 to both conspiracy charges.
“Today’s sentencing is an affirmative step to reducing the impact of gang violence and illegal drugs in the Azusa area,” stated Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams. “This task force investigation exemplifies the partnership between local, state and federal agencies in combating violent gang activities in our communities.”
In the early 1990s, the Azusa 13 gang adopted a racist principle “that members of the gang will harass and use violence to drive African-Americans out of the City of Azusa and would use violence in order to prevent African-Americans from moving into the City,” according to the indictment. When he pleaded guilty, Rios admitted that the gang had the goal of the cleansing Azusa of African-Americans. Rios also admitted that, in order to drive African-Americans out of the city, he and other members of the gang threatened, intimidated and attacked African-Americans at their residences, on the streets, at convenience stores and elsewhere, because of their race.
“The sentencing of the gang’s ‘keyholder’ is another giant step forward for the residents of an area who lived for too long under the specter of gang violence and racial animosity,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “Together with the Azusa Police Department and our partners in federal law enforcement, we took action to protect the civil rights of all the residents of Asuza, and we will continue to aggressively defend those rights, and those residents, from harm.”
Rios confirmed in court that members of the Azusa 13 gang “tagged” racial slurs on street signs, walls and buildings to intimidate law-abiding African-Americans in Azusa. In relation to the gang’s goal of cleansing the City of Azusa of African-Americans, Rios said that newly recruited members of the gang, often using dangerous weapons, participated in attacks on African-Americans as a way of proving themselves as members of the gang and to enhance their position in the gang.
Six of the defendants named in the indictment, including Rios, were charged in and pleaded guilty to the civil rights conspiracy, which alleged a series of incidents in which African-Americans were harassed through racist graffiti and subjected to attacks that included beatings and robberies. The racist incidents alleged in the indictment spanned a period from 1992 until May 2010, when an African-American high school student was beaten as he walked home from school.
The other five defendants who pleaded guilty to the civil rights conspiracy and admitted the gang’s racist conduct were:
Of the 51 members and associates of the Azusa 13 gang charged in the indictment, 49 defendants have pleaded guilty to racketeering and narcotics charges (with six of the 49 also pleading guilty to the civil rights charge). There are two fugitives who are charged with being narcotics traffickers, but they are not alleged to have been members of the gang. In addition to the defendants who pleaded guilty in the civil rights conspiracy, several members of the Azusa 13 gang acknowledged participating in the gang’s racist conduct, including:
“This case stands out as a huge victory for the community, the victims that the gang targeted, and the Azusa Police Department,” said Azusa Police Chief Sam Gonzalez. “The investigation and today’s sentencings send a loud and clear message that hate and gang crimes will not be tolerated, and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The Azusa Police Department remains committed to ensuring that all people are safe in the community, and we will continue to pursue all investigative avenues to make that a certainty. This case is an excellent example of how local and federal agencies can work together for the betterment of society.”
In addition to the RICO charge and the civil rights conspiracy count, the indictment alleges a long-running conspiracy to distribute narcotics, specifically heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine. The Azusa 13 gang developed a “business plan” that outlined methods by which the gang would control the narcotics business in Azusa, according to court documents. Under the business plan, members of Azusa 13 sought to “monopolize the entire drug market in the city of Azusa” through several means, including maintaining “top of the line artillery” and being prepared to kidnap relatives of wayward drug dealers.
As part of its narcotics operation, the gang extorted payments from street-level drug dealers in exchange for authorization to conduct business in Azusa 13 territory. Rios admitted that the Azusa 13 gang controlled the drug trafficking activity that occurred within the City of Azusa, and that members of the Azusa 13 gang would permit narcotics traffickers to distribute narcotics in exchange for a percentage of any narcotics proceeds that were generated in the gang’s territory. These payments of drug proceeds – known as “rent” or “tax” – were funneled to members of the Mexican Mafia who exerted control over the gang. According to Rios, members of the Azusa 13 gang would not permit a narcotics trafficker to distribute narcotics in the City of Azusa if that individual did not give a portion of their narcotics distribution proceeds to the gang.
N. Dawn Mertz, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Office of IRS Criminal Investigation (CI), commented: “The flow of money through the Azuza 13 Gang supported the gang structure and allowed it to thrive. IRS CI targeted the profit and financial gains by following the payments extorted from street-level drug dealers, payments known as “rent” or “tax.” IRS CI will continue to contribute our financial expertise to the investigation of gang organizations in an effort to bring their members to justice.”
The case against Azusa 13 is the result of an investigation that was conducted by the Los Angeles HIDTA Task Force, a federally funded group made up of federal and local law enforcement agencies, including the DEA and IRS Criminal Investigation. The Azusa Police Department worked in conjunction with the Task Force during this investigation, which started in early 2008.
While several federal indictments targeting Los Angeles-area gangs have made allegations of crimes against African-Americans, the case against Azusa 13 is the first in the history of the Department of Justice to use federal civil rights statutes in conjunction with federal racketeering and narcotics laws to address racist gang-related activity, and to successfully dismantle a violent criminal organization.