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Monday, 17 August 2009

Los Palillos ,The Toothpicks Crew impersonated police and used handguns and Tasers to assault, rob, kidnap and often times kill their victims

Suspected drug lord and 16 alleged members of his kidnapping and murder crew believed responsible for nine murders and the attempted slaying of a policeman, according to the San Diego County District Attorney's Office."This rogue group of individuals is responsible for a string of brutal murders and kidnappings that demonstrate the ugly reality of cross-border violence," said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis."Thanks to extraordinary cooperation from several law enforcement agencies and the dedication of District Attorney investigators and prosecutors, we have essentially dismantled this dangerous organization," she said. The district attorney's office was assisted in its investigation by the FBI, California Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, San Diego Police Department, San Diego County Sheriff's Department and Chula Vista Police Department.The SDPD performed its largest DNA analysis during the investigation due to the number of items seized and individuals processed during the operation.FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Keith Slotter called the circumstances surrounding the murders "absolutely shocking" and "almost beyond human comprehension."More than 120 witnesses testified to a grand jury about violent incidents in which members of Los Palillos -- or "Toothpicks" -- often impersonated police and used handguns and Tasers to assault, rob, kidnap and often times kill their victims, according to the indictment.The nine murder victims were lured to houses rented by members of Los Palillos, or abducted and held at those houses before eventually being murdered, authorities said.The bodies of seven of the victims were found by residents after being dumped in neighborhoods in Chula Vista, San Diego and Bonita.The bodies of the other two were dissolved in acid in May 2007 at a rented house in San Diego, according to the indictment returned Aug. 6 after a two-year investigation.Some members of the ring were arrested in June 2007, when investigators located a kidnapping victim being held at a home on Point Dume Court in Chula Vista.FBI SWAT officers rescued the 32-year-old businessman and apprehended five kidnappers. Two leaders of Los Palillos were convicted of kidnapping for ransom last December and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Two other abductors pleaded guilty, and two defendants are still awaiting trial.
In the new indictment, the alleged ringleader of Los Palillos, Jorge Rojas Lopez, is charged with nine murders and numerous special circumstance allegations, making him eligible for the death penalty if convicted.Fourteen other defendants face similar charges and could also be eligible for the death penalty.Deputy District Attorney Mark Amador alleged that Rojas Lopez formed the Los Palillos marijuana and methamphetamine distribution ring after the Arellano Felix Organization killed his brother."Jorge Rojas Lopez has a deep animosity for the AFO," the prosecutor said.
Rojas Lopez and Juan Laureano Arvizu are also charged with attempted murder of a peace officer for a Sept. 28, 2005, attack in which 19 shots were fired at a Chula Vista police officer.Rojas Lopez, 30, Jesus Lopez-Becerra, 30, Juan Francisco Estrada-Gonzalez, 36, Edgar Frausto Lopez, 35, Jorge Salvador Moreno, 38, Jose Leonel Olivera Beritan, 35, and David Valencia, 39, all pleaded not guilty Thursday and were ordered held without bail. A status conference was set for Sept. 2.


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