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Sentencing set for gang leader, son in attacks on blacks in Azusa

A leader of the Azusa 13 street gang and his son are scheduled to be sentenced Monday in federal court after pleading guilty to conspiring to attack blacks and force them to leave the city.

Santiago Rios faces a maximum of 30 years in prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess. His son, Louie Rios, faces up to 20 years in prison.

The Rioses and 49 other Azusa gang members were arrested in 2011 and charged with a conspiracy to “cleanse” Azusa of its black residents, according to prosecutors.

DOCUMENT: Azusa 13 indictment

All 51 members of the gang arrested in that case have been convicted. Only 10, including the Rioses, remain to be sentenced, said Reema El-Amamy, the federal prosecutor in the case.

Santiago Rios was a reputed Azusa 13 “keyholder” -- a shotcaller anointed by the Mexican Mafia prison gang to tax drug dealers, sell drugs himself and funnel the proceeds to Mafia members, according to a federal plea agreement.

In that position, he implemented an Azusa 13 policy dating to 1992 of targeting and harassing black people in Azusa, according to the agreement. The push to attack blacks was allegedly instigated by Ruben Rodriguez, a Mexican Mafia member from Azusa who has since died.

The gang would assault blacks they spotted in public places and spray racist graffiti. Some gang recruits were asked to attack blacks as a way of proving their worth to Azusa 13, according to the plea agreement.

The Azusa 13 case highlighted how the Mexican Mafia can create havoc on the streets far from where they are incarcerated among street gang members they have never met but who obey their orders.

Similar cases of Mexican Mafia influencing Latino gang attacks on blacks have been found in such communities as Hawaiian Gardens, San Bernardino, the Florence-Firestone district, Pacoima, Canoga Park, Glassell Park and Highland Park.

When several gang members were released on parole in 1999 and 2000, the normally quiet Azusa saw its hate crime rate skyrocket over the next three years, as gang members attacked black residents.

In one case, a 49-year-old woman was shot and wounded outside her apartment as she was saying goodnight to a friend. A gang member later testified that a group of Azusa 13 members had shot her after going “hunting” for blacks that night and finding no men to shoot.

The city formed a hate-crime task force, then a Human Relations Commission. It began an annual “Hands Across Azusa” multicultural celebration on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

In an undercover operation, police set up a storefront called A Peace of Africa, stocked with goods from Africa, hoping to entice the gang into committing a hate crime. Undercover black officers staffed the store and police staked it out around the clock, but lack of funding forced the department to close the store before any crimes were committed.

Azusa police arrested several of the recent parolees, who are now serving lengthy prison sentences. Federal prosecutors then mounted a broader case against the gang that culminated in the 2011 arrests.

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-- Sam Quinones

twitter.com/samquinones7

 
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