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Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Avenues have been ranked as fourth out of the top five most dangerous gangs in Los Angeles

L.A. gang The Avenues has long been a threat to Northeast L.A. As a branch of the Mexican Mafia, which has several divisions, The Avenues is the most powerful of the groups and calls Drew and Estara its home turf. "The Avenues have been ranked as fourth out of the top five most dangerous gangs in Los Angeles," President of the City Council, District 13 representative, and former Oxy Professor Eric Garcetti said.Murder, hate crimes, robbery, narcotics trafficking, intimidation, racketeering, illegal immigrant smuggling, and vandalism are just some of the charges Avenues gang members have been convicted of over the years.
The very terrain of the Drew Estara neighborhood has contributed to the danger it has posed to police as well as the substantial difficulty law enforcement has had in this area. Drew Street runs straight for almost half a mile, increasing in elevation from its dead-end on the west side of the neighborhood until it hits Weldon Road. Only two streets intersect it, and the combination of its steep incline makes it easy to spot approaching police cars.
Its position next to Forest Lawn Memorial also gives gang members easy access to a hiding spot. "Gang members would park cars next to the walls of Forest Lawn Memorial Park so they could jump up on the hoods and hop over the fences if they had to run from cops," Captain Murphy of the Northeast division of the L.A.P.D. said.
At the head of the gang lies the quite literal matriarch, Maria "Chata" Leon. Maria, an illegal immigrant from the town of Tlalchapa, Mexico, arrived in the Drew Estara neighborhood in the mid-eighties when she was in her early twenties. Over the next two decades, she gave birth to thirteen different children from five different fathers, almost all of whom were upper echelon gang members and drug dealers.Most of Maria's boys grew up to be drug dealers themselves, the most notorious of whom went by the surnames of Real, Leon, and Martinez. Brothers Francisco and Nicolas Real, Danny and Jose Leon, and Randy and Jesus Martinez are all high-ranking members of the Avenues gang.Maria has been arrested on at least 14 separate occasions since her arrival to Drew Street in 1985, according to the L.A. Times. "Maria has also been deported several times," Murphy said. "She was arrested here this past summer."Murphy was unaware of Maria's current whereabouts, although she is last known to have purchased a home in Victorville, California, about 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles, which has now been confiscated by the IRS.The Leon family's former residence at 3304 Drew Street, referred to as "Satellite House" for the large black satellite dish on its roof, became the epicenter of Drew Street's fear and violence.Past searches of the Leon family home have turned up explosives, automatics weapons, surveillance cameras, and even a laser tripwire system. Under the same roof as this veritable armory were living six children under the age of ten, including Maria's then three-month-old boy. A "shrine" to the early twentieth century folkloric figure, Jesus Malverde, known as the "patron-saint" of drug traffickers, was also discovered in the Satellite House. In the afternoon of February, 2008, 22-year-old Drew Street gang member Danny "Klever" Ivan Leon drove down to Cypress Park, home to a rival gang of The Avenues. Near Aragon Elementary School, 36-year-old Marcos Salas walked while holding the hand of his two-year-old granddaughter. As Leon's White Nissan sedan passed Marcos, the passengers of the car opened fire, wounding Salas who later died of his injuries. Miraculously, Salas' granddaughter escaped the barrage of bullets unharmed.As Leon and his fellow Avenidas fled the scene of the crime back to Drew Estara, an unmarked car containing an L.A.P.D. Criminal Apprehension Team who had been alerted of the shooting, tailed the gangsters.When Leon and his passengers spotted the C.A.T. car following them, the Avenues members pulled over. Donned in a ski mask, Leon pulled out an AK-47 and opened fire on the police. A shootout between The Avenues gangsters and the police ensued, shutting down the area for dozens of blocks, and resulted in the death of Leon. Leon's accompanying gang members, Guillermo Ocampo and Jose Angel Gomez were immediately apprehended by the police, and driver Rafael Carrillo, who had fled the scene, was found and arrested four days later.Danny was the half-brother of Francisco "Pancho" Real, another son of Maria Leon, and an active Avenues member who had allegedly been given control of the Drew Estara area by the Mexican Mafia. According to the LA Weekly, L.A.P.D. wire taps on Francisco telling of his half-brothers death led him to conclude, "Shit happens."The Drew Street shootout with Danny Leon wasn't the sole tipping point that incited further L.A.P.D. presence in the Drew Street area. In the Fall of 2007, the Northeast division of the L.A.P.D. went to the Federal Government for assistance. "Drew Street was the worst area we had," Murphy said. "Our narcotics units were in there all the time. In order to really stop it, we needed to go in there with the Feds."With federal cooperation, a task force was formed against the Drew Street clique. Police used wire taps on known gang members and put cameras on their homes. "We worked the wire for five to six months," Murphy said.


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