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18th Street gang accused of operating nightclubs to further criminal activities

July 24, 2009 |  2:32 pm

Illegal bar Authorities have alleged today that a notorious L.A. gang has expanded its criminal enterprises into the nightlife world.

LAPD detectives said that underground bars operated by the 18th Street gang are connected to murders, drug trafficking and gambling in Los Angeles. A recent bust of the bars resulted in the arrests of 34 gang members and associates, authorities announced today.

The arrests are the culmination of an 18-month federal and local probe into so-called "casitas" that are concealed inside South Los Angeles homes and closed stores.

"These were bars operating in the wee hours, putting the community at risk," said LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese.

One illegal after-hours club was just a few blocks from the 77th Street police station behind a shuttered tattoo parlor, authorities say. At least three of the casitas have been the scenes for homicides in the 77th station patrol area in South Los Angeles.

According to authorities, bargoers pay a fee to enter the illegal clubs and then buy drinks, with access to prostitutes, drugs and slot machines.

The clubs are often hidden in residential neighborhoods where the gang members use intimidation to keep area residents from notifying authorities, investigators say.

At least five separate casitas have been raided in recent weeks and at one location federal and LAPD officers discovered about 40 people crowded into a building. During the casitas investigation known as Operation Treadstone, LAPD and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives seized 15 illegal firearms, $140,000 in asset seizures, 18 gambling machines and 200 pounds of illegal fireworks recovered from 19 locations.

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted nine alleged members and associates of the 18th Street gang, charging them with dealing firearms without a license, felon in possession of a firearm, distribution and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine, and illegal alien in possession of a firearm as part of bar operations.

Investigators say some of the targets of the arrests are key members of the 18th Street gang, one of the oldest, largest and most heavily entrenched gangs in Southern California.

-- Richard Winton

Photo: Entrance to an illegal after-hours club allegedly operated by the 18th Street gang. Credit: Los Angeles Police Department.