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Federal agents bust reputed smuggling ring with ties to L.A. gang

October 14, 2009 |  1:39 pm

Federal authorities said this afternoon they have arrested eight people -- and are seeking a ninth -- with ties to the Drew Street clique of the Avenues gang on suspicion of drug trafficking and human smuggling.

Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement served search and arrest warrants Tuesday night and this morning at locations in the Imperial Valley and Los Angeles. 

One of the sites in the 2800 block of Avenue 34 in northeast L.A. was the base of operations for the alleged smuggling ring and served as a "drop house" before illegal immigrants were taken to their final locations, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said in a prepared statement.

The ring charged people up to $4,500, provided phony immigration papers and smuggled the human cargo into the United States from Mexico by concealing them in trucks and hidden compartments of vehicles.

Some of the defendants face up to 30 years in federal prison if convicted on all counts.

A federal grand jury indictment names Teodoro Alvarez-Estrada, 56, and his wife, Aquilina Alvarez, 56. They were arrested after a search of their northeast Los Angeles home turned up three firearms, including a semiautomatic handgun and a .357 Magnum revolver, ICE officials said.

Also arrested were Eduardo Alvarez-Marquez, 35, of Los Angeles, and Holtville residents Martina Araceli Carreon, 44, and Jose Carreon, 47. Others in custody included Calexico residents Ruben Servin-Mejia, 37, and Maria Toledo-Fierros, 49, and Yesenia Rubi Mendoza-Gonzalez of Mexicali, Mexico.

The investigation into the smuggling ring began in August 2008 from information developed by the Los Angeles Police Department and federal authorities in their probe of crime tied to the Avenues street gang. 

The ring is alleged to have smuggled over 200 illegal immigrants into the U.S. annually. Federal investigators said at one point the alleged smugglers were negotiating with Avenues gang members to bring Maria Leon, matriarch and shot-caller of the Drew Street clique, into the United States from Mexico. 

Leon, now serving an eight-year federal prison sentence for racketeering crimes related to the Avenues street gang, eventually used another smuggling group, federal authorities said.

“This case illustrates the disturbing ties we’re increasingly finding between local street gangs and criminal organizations,” said Kevin Kozak, deputy special agent in charge of the Los Angeles ICE office.  “ICE is working not only to target and dismantle violent street gangs, but also the criminal organizations that support the gangs’ illegal activities.” 

-- Andrew Blankstein

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