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United States Attorney's Office
Central District of California


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Los Angeles, California 90012
Release No. 06-159

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 20, 2006
For Information, Contact Public Affairs
Thom Mrozek (213) 894-6947

GANG MEMBERS SENTENCED TO LIFE IN FEDERAL PRISON FOR MURDERS, ASSAULTS OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS


Los Angeles, CA - Three Latino gang members were sentenced today to life in federal prison for participating in a six-year conspiracy that led to the assault and murder of African-Americans in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles.

The defendants, who are members of the Avenues street gang, each received two consecutive life sentences from United States District Judge Percy Anderson in Los Angeles. In the federal system, these sentences carry no possibility of parole.

The three were convicted at trial this summer of being part of a conspiracy that committed numerous violent assaults against African-Americans, including murders that took place in 1999 and in 2000. Members of the conspiracy were found guilty of violating the civil rights of African-Americans in the gang's neighborhood by attacking and sometimes killing the victims. The jury found that the defendants caused the death of Christopher Bowser, an African-American man who was shot while waiting at a bus stop in Highland Park on December 11, 2000. The jury also found that the defendants caused the death of Kenneth Kurry Wilson, an African-American man who was gunned down while looking for a parking place in Highland Park on April 18, 1999.

The defendants sentenced today were:

Gilbert Saldana, 27, a triggerman in the Wilson murder, who is currently serving a life sentence in state prison for another murder;

Alejandro Martinez, 28, who instigated the Wilson murder by using a racial slur and encouraging his fellow gang members to kill Wilson; and

Fernando Cazares, 25, who served as a look-out during the Wilson murder.

A fourth defendant convicted at trial Porfirio Avila, 31, who is currently serving a life sentence in state prison the murders of Christopher Bowser and another African-American man, is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Anderson on December 18.

A fifth defendant, Merced Cambero, 27, who is alleged to have been the second triggerman in the Wilson murder, is currently a fugitive and remains under indictment.

"Today's sentences send a clear message that this type of racial violence, which devastates individuals and entire communities, will not be tolerated in this country," said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Department of Justice is grateful to the victims and witnesses who had the courage to come forward in this case, despite enormous personal sacrifices demanded by the trial, so that the truth about these horrible crimes could come out."

Thomas P. O'Brien, Chief of the Criminal Division in the United States Attorney's Office, commented: "This case demonstrates that this office and the Department of Justice will use all tools available to ensure that the citizens of this District are protected from hate crimes, particularly violent hate crimes of the type committed by these defendants. The multiple life sentences imposed today guarantee that these violent, racist killers will never again be free to attack African-American residents of the Highland Park neighborhood just because they are African-American."

J. Stephen Tidwell, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles, said: "Today's sentencing represents the FBI's commitment to the protection of civil rights in the United States, which is listed among the FBI's highest priorities. My office continues to offer a $20,000 reward for the remaining fugitive charged in the conspiracy, Merced Cambero, so that all of those responsible for these insidious and racist crimes are prosecuted."

This case was investigated by the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department, under Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton. The case was prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office in Los Angeles and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

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Release No. 06-159

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