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City attorney seeking monetary damages from gang leaders

December 8, 2008 | 10:12 am

The Los Angeles city attorney’s office filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit today seeking monetary damages from individual leaders of the city’s largest gang, with proceeds going directly to neighborhoods that their crimes affected.

“Today, we’re sending a message to gang leaders across this city: If you break the law, we will not only find you, arrest you, and put you behind bars; we will also take away your money, your property, your homes, and your cars. And for the first time ever, we will return that money to the communities you have brutalized,” said City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo of lawsuits filed against 18th Street gang leaders. “As the gangs who terrorize our neighborhoods evolve, so too must we adapt our laws and our tactics to fit the times.”

The lawsuit seeks to recover money damages for all property damage, loss in property value, emotional distress, personal injury, medical expenses, and out-of-pocket expenses. It also takes into account lost time in which residents could not use public parks because of gang activity.

The lawsuit targets nine leaders of the 18th Street Gang: Sergio Pantoja, Frank Martinez, Araceli Bravo, Michael Pineda, Jose Juan Alvarez, Noe Chavez, Efrain Ruiz Torres, Jose Morales Perez and Ruben “Nite Owl” Castro.

Castro, 46, is a leader of the Mexican Mafia prison gang who authorities say controls the two cliques of the 18th Street gang -- the Shatto Park Locos and the Hoover Locos. Castro allegedly ran those gangs from a Colorado federal maximum security prison, where he is serving multiple life terms.

He was sentenced last month to 27 years and three months in prison for running criminal operations in the MacArthur Park area, including allegedly "taxing" area drug dealers, fruit and ice cream vendors and even people who played chess on park tables.

Bruce Riordan, the city attorney’s gang prosecutor and a former federal prosecutor, said the lawsuit goes after a vital ingredient in the gang’s chemistry: money.

--Richard Winton

Photo: Los Angeles Times file

Correction: A previous version of this story spelled Araceli Bravo's last name as Aravo.