Los Angeles Street Gang Targeted in Federal Racketeering Indictment
Twenty-eight members and associates of the South Los Angeles-based Eastside Playboys street gang were arrested today on federal racketeering, narcotics, and firearms charges.
The arrests stem from six indictments, one of which alleges a racketeering scheme and includes allegations of narcotics and weapons trafficking, as well as the extortion of local businesses.
“This case is the culmination of years of work by our agents and prosecutors, alongside our local law enforcement partners, to remove violent gang members from our streets and dismantle the criminal organizations that fuel violent crime,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland of the Justice Department. “The Justice Department has no tolerance for violent gangs that sow fear and terror in our communities, and we will continue to use every tool we have to stop them and bring them to justice.”
“One of our fundamental duties at the FBI is to protect the American people,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The law enforcement operations in the Los Angeles area today reflect only a portion of the work being done across the country and illustrate the FBI’s dedication to reducing violent crime in our nation, and combating the threats that gangs, violent actors, and criminal enterprises pose to our communities. I am proud of the work being done by the FBI, in concert with our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners, to keep our citizens and communities safe.”
One of the indictments alleges that the gang is a criminal enterprise under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. This indictment outlines the structure of the gang, its allegiance to the Mexican Mafia prison gang, and how it generates revenue through, among other things, the sale of narcotics and firearms.
“The indictments unsealed today charge a gang that stands accused of plaguing South Los Angeles for 50 years through repeated acts of violence, drug trafficking, extortion of local businesses, and weapons violations,” said Acting United States Attorney Stephanie S. Christensen for the Central District of California. “Today’s coordinated law enforcement action targeted the Playboys street gang because of its alleged widespread criminal conduct, as well as the fear and intimidation its members imposed on our community.”
As part of the overall racketeering enterprise, some defendants engaged in large-scale drug trafficking, including sending kilogram quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl through the United States Postal Service, FedEx and United Parcel Service. Some defendants also allegedly distributed cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl powder and counterfeit fentanyl-laced pills in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
“Members and associates of this gang have built a criminal enterprise by trafficking in guns and deadly drugs, by extorting business owners, and by terrorizing victims with violent assaults and robberies,” said Acting Assistant Director in Chage Amir Ehsaei of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The FBI will continue to work with our local partners to identify the gangs wreaking havoc on our communities and to use federal tools to hold major offenders accountable for their crimes.”
During this investigation, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs seized from the Playboys and their associates approximately 47 firearms, 199 kilograms of methamphetamine, 13.6 kilograms of fentanyl, 27 kilograms of cocaine, 7.6 kilograms of heroin, 283 kilograms of marijuana, and $140,000 in cash. The RICO indictment further alleges that members of the racketeering enterprise operated two unlicensed marijuana dispensaries.
“I am proud of the hard work and dedication of our LAPD officers, the FBI and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs on such a demanding investigation,” said Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore. “Organized street gangs prey upon our communities with violence, intimidation and fear. Their tradecraft is furthered by the trafficking of dangerous firearms and narcotics. As in this case, and others, with strong federal partners and the support of our communities we are able to remove the distributors and root cause of such violence from of our neighborhoods.”
Those arrested today are among 41 members and associates of the gang named across the six indictments. Three of the defendants were already in custody, and law enforcement continues to search for 10 defendants.
The RICO conspiracy and Hobbs Act robbery charges each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. The narcotics and firearms offenses carry a range of potential sentences, many of which include a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years in prison.
The defendants arrested today are expected to be arraigned this afternoon in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
Today’s arrests are the result of an investigation that was opened approximately four years ago by the FBI and the multi-agency Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs. The investigation, dubbed Operation Down the Rabbit Hole, utilized an array of tactics, including wiretaps and surveillance, to uncover evidence of extortion of businesses, violent robberies, burglaries, narcotics and firearms trafficking, and violence against their own members as “discipline” for violating gang rules and norms.
Operation Down the Rabbit Hole was led by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs, which is comprised of the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives; DEA; U.S. Marshals Service; the Joint Regional Intelligence Center; Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; U.S. Bureau of Prisons; California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; and the Los Angeles County Probation Department provided considerable assistance.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Damaris Diaz and Claire E. Kelly of the Violent and Organized Crime Section, and Christopher C. Kendall and Maria Elena Stiteler of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering, and Racketeering Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California are prosecuting these cases.
An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.