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Friday, 6 February 2009

3304 Drew Street was a sophisticated nerve center for one of northeast Los Angeles' most notorious street gangs

3304 Drew Street was a sophisticated nerve center for one of northeast Los Angeles' most notorious street gangs. A 30-ton excavator made quick work of the stucco house Wednesday, turning it to rubble as jubilant officials and somewhat more skeptical neighbors looked on. "This was the 'In-N-Out' for drug sales in this particular neighborhood," City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said. "People were shot outside the front of this property, it just has been a menace." For more than two decades, the house was inhabited by a powerful family in the Avenues, a multigenerational gang named after the numbered roads crisscrossing the area about six miles northeast of downtown. Ex-residents included matriarch Maria "Chata" Leon, an illegal immigrant who was arrested in 2002 for allegedly selling cocaine, and one of her sons, Danny Leon, who police say carried out a drive-by shooting in February last year. Immediately after the shooting, he pulled an AK-47 on police officers, who shot him dead outside the house. Between 2002 and 2005, police conducted 14 narcotics raids, arrested more than a dozen homicide and other suspects, and confiscated drugs and automatic weapons from the property. "This house served as a terrifying monument which sought to intimidate and control this neighborhood," Delgadillo said.
Two alleged Avenues gang members not connected to the house pleaded not guilty to murdering a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who was gunned down Aug. 2 in front of his nearby home. Despite its frightening reputation, the house was once a home. The names of several family members – Nicolas, Francisco, Jose – had been written into the poured cement along the footpath and an ornate fitting was still attached to a light switch in the kitchen. The city attorney's office initially targeted the house in 2005 and in November that year a court ordered the residents out. The property was barricaded in January 2007. Local officials reached out to federal law enforcement and immigration agents, sparking an investigation that culminated last year in a federal racketeering indictment and the arrest of more than 70 alleged Avenues gang members and their associates, Deputy City Attorney Nicholas Karno said.
His office has since filed lawsuits against 12 other alleged gang homes in the area, though those properties remain occupied. Several neighbors said the area had improved since the arrests, and new street lights made them feel safer at night.
"In the nighttime, we couldn't even go out," Cecilia Martinez, 28, said as she corralled her chihuahua puppy back toward her home. "Now it's cool." Others watching the excavator noisily chew through the home questioned razing a house in an already tightly populated community. "It hurts my heart," Lidia Martinez, 46, said in Spanish. "There are kids without parents and older people who need a place to live."


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