U.S. Accuses 4 Gang Members of Hate Crime in Black's Killing

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Mahmoud Siddiqi
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500 Years Later

Unread post by Mahmoud Siddiqi » June 29th, 2006, 10:50 am

500 Years Later

Director - Owen ‘Alik Shahadah

The largest screening ever, One Million Watched in awe at the Million More Movement in the Nations Capital
“Challenging, sweeping, and blistering." Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“500 Years Later’ Winner of the Best Documentary Award, Pan-African Film Festival 2005 is fast becoming one of the most powerful documentaries by and on the African Diaspora this century.” - Focused magazine - USA

"This film is not just about African history. It is an essential movie about our past as a people and a record most of us are still unwilling to truly accept, even 500 years later." - Seattle Times - USA

”500 Years Later is more than a film but rather a transcontinental discussion between some the greatest and most articulate thinkers of the African global nation.” - Nommo - USA

“500 Years Later captures the history, nobility, and victorious consciousness of African peoples all over the world. It is stunning in its breadth, magnificent in its depth, and brilliant in execution. This is sure to become a classic film!” - Dr. Molefi Asante, Founder of Afrocentricity

“500 Years Later retells history from an African point of view” - Phelim O'Neill, Guardian - UK

Crime, drugs, HIV/AIDS, poor education, inferiority complex, low expectation, poverty, corruption, poor health, and underdevelopment plagues people of African decent globally – Why? 500 years later from the onset of Slavery and subsequent Colonialism, Africans are still struggling for basic freedom–Why?

500 YEARS LATER is a critically acclaimed multi-award winning documentary filmed in five continents, 500 Years Later engages the authentic retrospective voice, told from the African vantage-point of those whom history has sought to silence by examining the collective atrocities that uprooted Africans from their culture and homeland.

500 Years Later is a timeless compelling journey, infused with the spirit and music of liberation that chronicles the struggle of a people who have fought and continue to fight for the most essential human right – freedom.


Dr. Maulana Karenga. Dr. Francis Cress Welsing. Paul Robeson, Jr. Issac Ossei. Dr. Kimani Nehusi. Sonia Sanchez. Amira Baraka. Desmond Tutu. Dr. Hakim Adi. Dr. Tufuku Zuberi. Dr. Molefi K Asante. Dr. Helena Woodard. Shaykh Muhammad Shareef . Andrew Muhammad. Trevor Marshall. David Comminsong. Nelson George. The Might Gabby.


L Grindin
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U.S. Accuses 4 Gang Members of Hate Crime in Black's Killing

Unread post by L Grindin » June 29th, 2006, 6:28 pm

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me ... california
From the Los Angeles Times
U.S. Accuses 4 Gang Members of Hate Crime in Black's Killing
Prosecutor says 1999 slaying was part of a conspiracy to keep African Americans out of turf claimed in Highland Park.
By John Spano
Times Staff Writer

June 29, 2006

A Latino street gang threatened, assaulted, terrorized and murdered black people in Highland Park for six years in an effort to keep them out of their territory, a federal prosecutor alleged Wednesday.

"Kenneth Wilson was killed because he was black, because he was in Highland Park and because the Avenues gang members had promised each other, had agreed that they would drive African Americans out of the neighborhood, by threats, by force, by murder," Assistant U.S. Atty. Alex Bustamante told jurors.

Prosecutors used a federal hate crimes law, based on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawing slavery, to prosecute the defendants, along with conspiracy charges, in Wilson's death.

The defense claimed without success that the federal government has no power to involve itself in a common street crime, such as Wilson's 1999 murder in a car in Highland Park.

The defendants are Gilbert Saldana, Alejandro Martinez, Fernando Cazares and Porfirio Avila. The trial opened under extraordinary security in the Edward R. Roybal Courthouse downtown, with federal officers blanketing all exits from the courtroom.

The defendants sat behind three rising rows of seats opposite the jury, each shackled to the floor.

The restraints were behind an elaborate set of risers that make them invisible to others in the courtroom.

Defense attorney Reuven L. Cohen urged jurors to keep an open mind and to reject testimony from three former Avenues gang members who he said turned government informants to curry favor with prosecutors.

One of them, David Cruz, a convicted, deported felon who was brought into the U.S. to testify for the government, was at the center of a series of hearings before U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson leading up to the trial.

The alleged conspiracy included multiple assaults on blacks, and prosecutors said they have linked two other killings to the scheme.

"They wanted all blacks out of that neighborhood, not just African American men, not just African American gang members but all African American women and children," Bustamante said.

Cohen said the crimes sprang in part from racial prejudice "that exists in every pocket of every corner of every part of our city."

L Grindin
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Unread post by L Grindin » June 29th, 2006, 6:40 pm

Here's their resume:

Avenues of Death
How Highland Park’s Latino gang targets African-Americans
Luisa Prudhomme proudly shows off photo after photo of her son: As a newborn baby boy swathed in a white bonnet and blanket. As a 2-year-old bathing in the bathroom sink. As a 5-year-old dressed in Michael Jackson attire. And a teenager checking out his first car, a used red Escort. And wearing cap and gown, grinning ear to ear at his high school graduation. She abruptly stops on this June day. “Anthony graduated high school nine years ago today.”

Prudhomme, who is white, passes over the last photo of her African-American son as a 21-year-old man, sporting a mustache and goatee, hanging out with a friend and flashing the peace sign. “He was full of peace and love,” she said, sitting at Anthony’s favorite Highland Park restaurant. “He thought he had the best of both worlds being black and white. I feel like I let him out to the wolves, and the wolves ate him up.”

On a cool November night in 2000, just a five-minute walk from Tacos el Michoacano, members of the Avenues gang awakened Anthony in the basement room he rented for $200 a month on a quiet, tree-lined street overlooking the hills of Highland Park and executed him because of the color of his skin.

“The detective told me that if my son was Latino he would be alive today,” said the mother, who wears a silver chain with a photo of her son in a heart-shaped pendant. “I had no idea how dangerous it was for blacks to live in Highland Park. His father lives in South Central. I was more worried about that.”

Police blame three killings of African-American men on the Avenues gang in Highland Park, which has led to a federal hate-crimes indictment and once again landed the northeast L.A. gang in the national spotlight. A decade ago, it was the killing of 3-year-old Stephanie Kuhen by a clique of the Avenues that put the gang in the cross hairs of law enforcement. The little girl’s murder by gang members who fired on her family’s car as her stepfather, lost, tried to turn around on a dead-end street, intensified efforts by police to eradicate the 800-member gang from neighborhoods just north of downtown L.A., where the forces of gentrification are flooding the area with new families seeking a safe, urban life.

Today, the continuing carnage on the streets of Highland Park and neighboring Glassell Park, Cypress Park and parts of Eagle Rock are cruel testimony to the mixed results of that campaign. Federal indictments, a gang injunction and one of the more ambitious series of gang trials in Los Angeles history, which began in 2003 and has so far produced three convictions for seven killings, hit the Avenues hard, but violence has continued by the gang and its rivals. Police blame the Avenues alone for more than half of the 200-plus homicides in the northeast L.A. neighborhoods since the early 1990s.

What makes Highland Park’s gang wars particularly disturbing is the way victims are struck down in broad daylight on busy streets, sometimes involving people without gang ties. Since January, nine gang-related killings have hit the neighborhood, including 19-year-old Cynthia Portillo, a pregnant woman. Police give this account: Portillo was shot to death on a February afternoon as she walked down the street with an 18-year-old alleged member of the Drifters gang. Members of a gang called Highland Park had just terrified three people standing at a bus stop, asking them, “Where you from?” before letting fly a hail of bullets. Then they came upon Portillo and her friend and asked them about their gang affiliation before firing off a round, striking Portillo in the head. Driving away, they fired at a teenager on a bicycle who fired back bursting their right rear tire. Police caught up with the gangsters moments later as they were parked on a side street.

The crackdowns on the Avenues’ leaders, which have come in three waves over the past decade, have produced a fresh crop of gang members, and also made room for other gangs trying to set up shop in one of L.A.’s oldest neighborhoods.

“Avenues gang activity has decreased and other gangs have increased,” said LAPD Northeast gang supervisor Detective Robert Lopez. “Other gangs are taking advantage of enforcement efforts and uncertainty in the Avenues. They are still leery because the Avenues are still formidable.”

Nearly a dozen Avenues gang members have been killed over the last couple of years because of internal strife, and they are still battling to fill the leadership vacuum created when their leaders went to prison.

The Avenues take their name from the numbered corridors that slice through Figueroa Street, Highland Park’s bustling yet economically poor main drag, home to Mexican grocery stores, check-cashing businesses, nail salons, swap meets, car washes, fast-food joints and a smattering of Mexican restaurants, galleries and nightclubs with a citywide draw. Steps from the 5-mile-long boulevard lie unpredictable hot spots, where violence breaks out amid 1920s historic Craftsman homes and bungalows, newly built luxury apartments just a stone’s throw from ramshackle homes with overgrown lawns and congested pockets of Section 8 low-rent apartments.

It has been nearly 10 years since Avenues boss and Mexican Mafia member Alex "Pee Wee" Aguirre was sentenced to a life term. He turned over partial control of the gang to his brother, Richard “Little Pee Wee” Aguirre, who was only 14 when he assumed the role of shot-caller in 1995. His reign lasted until 2001, when he was charged in a string of murders. It wasn't until this May that Little Pee Wee was convicted, a delay caused by the "difficult" task of getting gang members to cooperate with police. During the trial, two ex-Avenues members told shocking tales of robberies, assaults and murders. They gave details of life as tax collectors for the Mexican Mafia’s drug business and the penalties doled out to those who defied its will.

Hate target:
Christopher Bowser

FBI agent Jerry Fradella tells of the meetings a clique of Avenues held off and on with some 50 members at the Montecito Heights Recreation Center to talk about the blacks in the neighborhood and how they had to get rid of them.

“They thought there were too many around,” said Fradella. “It is like a blanket policy for them.” John Berdin, who recently retired as LAPD’s Northeast homicide supervisor, said the Avenues have a well-documented history of attacking blacks dating to the early ’90s, when three black family members were shot and injured by gang members after they moved into an apartment on 58th and Benner streets in Highland Park.

“There are a lot of motivating factors,” he said. “There is a lot of hatred between Hispanics and blacks within the prison system. What happens on the inside translates to the outside. When there is an incident inside the penal system, it spreads to hate crimes on the street.” All that matters is the color of your skin.

Anthony Prudhomme was an easy target for the Avenues. He was naive, trustworthy and a friend to all. The 6-foot-3, 155-pound free spirit was born at Glendale Adventist Medical Center on November 27, 1978. “It was a beautiful day,” said his mom, who was 19 at the time. “I was watching the sun set when he was born.” Life soon turned rocky. His parents split up shortly after he was born. Broke and unable to pay for her baby’s diapers, Luisa joined the U.S. Navy for medical benefits. Her ex-husband cared for Anthony for two months so she could go to boot camp. She and her son were reunited in Virginia Beach, which was Luisa’s first assignment. She did tours of duty in Hawaii, San Diego and Japan, and eventually became a petty officer third class. She left the military in 1988, and she and her son briefly lived in Germany with Anthony’s grandmother before returning to Pasadena to start over. Luisa remarried in 1991, and Anthony welcomed a brother into the world four years later.

Anthony graduated in 1996 from Blair High School in Pasadena, where he was voted “Class Flirt” and “Most Cheerful.” He got along well with jocks and nerds, and liked to help the underdog.

He took a job at Pier One Imports in La Cañada “because it smelled the best” of all the places he applied, and he began taking classes at the L.A. Recording Workshop, aspiring to be a music producer. Music became his hobby. He played the keyboards. Musical talent ran in his family. He learned how to play from his uncle, who was a drummer in a local band. Anthony loved Wu-Tang Clan, Slum Village and Black Eyed Peas.

Anthony was also a hemp advocate and designed a bumper sticker with the slogan, “Say No to Drugs, Say Yes to Hemp.”

He fought with his stepfather over his marijuana use and moved out of his parents’ home in the San Fernando Valley, renting the basement suite in Highland Park from his high school math tutor, who lived in the main part of the rustic house, overlooking York Street and the neighboring hills.

“I was worried about him financially,” said Luisa. “I begged him not to move. He said, ‘No, Mom. It is time’. I don’t know why I didn’t want him to move. I had never seen him happier. He was so content. It was the first time he was on his own. We went to IKEA and I bought him a couch, one that pulls out. I never dreamed he would be killed on that bed two months later.”

When he wasn’t at work, school or with his girlfriend, Anthony had recently begun to hang out with a group of roofers working at the house next door. He even befriended one who would stop by for a quick toke.

The Wednesday before his murder, Anthony called up his mother, whom he hoped would convince his stepfather to give his friend, Lenny, a job at his trucking company. “I told him he should worry about himself,” she said. “I was worried about him, and he was worried about his friend.”

Mother and son talked again on November 2, the day before he died. “He wanted to know if I would make German food. If I knew it was his last day on earth . . .”

Later that evening, Anthony received a call from a friend who wanted to stop by to see him. Anthony turned down the offer and said he had to get to work by 6 a.m. to unload a truck. He never made it. Around 2 a.m., two men broke into Anthony’s apartment and shot him twice in the back of the head. They used a pillow to muffle the sound, but the gunshots awakened his landlord sleeping upstairs, who called police. The gunmen escaped in a van as patrol cars pulled up.

Nearly a year later, an informant told police that a fellow gang member from the Avenues said he and another gangster had done the “murder on the hill.” On December 5, 2001, Porfirio “Dreamer” Avila, an acquaintance of one of the roofers working on the house next door, was arrested and charged with the murder of Anthony. He belonged to the 43rd Aves, a splinter group of the Avenues. His accomplice was never charged. Police believe Anthony was killed because he was black, but ruled his death a robbery gone bad because they didn’t have enough evidence to charge Avila with a hate crime.

Avila was convicted of murdering Anthony and another African-American man — Christopher Bowser, 28, who was killed one month later. Bowser was shot once in the back of the head while waiting at a bus stop on Figueroa Street on his way to visit friends. Avila and another gunman jumped out of a car, ran up to him and fired. The father of four died instantly. The police speculated that Bowser was killed for filing a police report alleging that an Avenues gang member had robbed him of a gold chain. Bowser had been regularly chased down the street, threatened and on at least one occasion beaten by members of the 43rd Aves, who ruled the turf where Bowser lived with his mother on Avenue 44 since 1989. “I was moving away from the gangbanging on Hoover,” said Bowser’s mother Angel Brown. “They were always calling him racial names. He said he would end up being a statistic, the way they were chasing him. He didn’t do nothing to them.”

Bowser had filed at least three police reports against the gang, she said. Don Petrie, an African-American friend of Bowser’s since elementary school, lived across the street from him and his mother in Highland Park. He said that both he and Bowser regularly escaped beatings and had bottles thrown at them by the 43rd Aves. Petrie said that gang members would drive up and down their block looking for them.

“When we were kids it was fine, but when we got older it was a problem,” he said. “They started chasing and calling us niggers. They told us to get out of the neighborhood.”

Petrie and his mother moved out of the area in 1996, after three years of relentless attacks.

“They ran us out of Highland Park,” he said. “I was fearful for my life. I knew other guys from other gangs, and they never gave me any problems. They used to tell us that Avenues don’t like blacks. They would tell us to be careful.”

FBI agent Fradella said Avenues members often talked about how much they disliked Bowser. “They knew Bowser, and he really irritated them and would walk around with his boom box,” he said. “He was a good runner and they would chase him.”

At the time of Prudhomme’s and Bowser’s deaths, allegations of another hate crime were already on the radar of federal authorities with the killing of Kenneth Curry Wilson. He was gunned down on April 18, 1999, while parking his Cadillac on Avenue 52, a street claimed by the 43rd Aves. The 38-year-old African-American had been visiting a friend when gang members drove by in a stolen van and saw him. Three of them allegedly jumped out of the vehicle, and shot him several times.

In 2004, federal authorities, armed with new information, indicted four Avenues on federal-weapons and civil-rights charges in connection with Wilson’s and Bowser's killings and are considering the death penalty. Alejandro “Bird” Martinez, who allegedly called the hit on Bowser from jail, is one of the Avenues named. The indictment includes several other attacks against blacks, such as the beating of a man who was seen walking with a Latino woman, a murder plot against a man who had just moved into the neighborhood, an assault on a group of men playing basketball in Montecito Park, racial slurs directed at a girl in a supermarket, drawing chalk outlines of human bodies in the driveway of a black resident's home and the beating of a black man who stopped to use a pay phone on the street. The trial, which covers incidents that occurred between 1997 and 2001, is set to begin in January. Detective Lopez says at least six racially motivated incidents have occurred since 2001, involving various cliques of the Avenues.

Luisa said that federal authorities are also looking into whether they can bring hate-crime charges against the second accomplice in Anthony’s death. The FBI’s Fradella confirmed that the agency is looking into it.

“You never dream you are going to bury your child,” Luisa said. “You look back and wonder what you could have done, and you blame everyone except the murderer. He was too young. He didn’t have a chance to be famous. He was a star to me.”

Photo by Kevin Scanlon

The Avenues hasn’t always been a violent gang. Little is known about the Flores brothers, who started it as a club in the 1940s. Members sported gang tattoos that included a skull with a fedora and a bullet hole in the skull, or the letters LA, AVES, A and Avenidos. They dressed well, and many wore Frisco pants. In the early days, it was more of a neighborhood group of guys who hung out together. They settled fights with their fists. Back then, the gangs’ rival was the Clover Street gang. As time went on, the Avenues got bigger and more violent and changed for the worst in 1969.

“We went to Vietnam, and the guys started to learn how to shoot,” said LAPD Northeast Senior Lead Officer Joe Galindo, who grew up with the Avenues in Highland Park. Soon disgruntled members formed a new gang in neighboring Cypress Park. Drive-by shootings became commonplace. The death toll rose. The introduction of drugs into the mix by the Mexican Mafia, or La Eme, in the 1980s accelerated the homicide rate.

The Avenues have cliques, each of which claims a gang territory based on where gang members live. The three main cliques are 43rd Aves, Avenues 57 and Cypress Avenues, all centered on the streets for which they are named.

Photo by Kevin Scanlon

By the early 1990s, the Avenues drew the attention of federal authorities concerned about the Mexican Mafia’s bid to extend the group’s influence outside of California’s prisons as well as the deadly infighting for control that ensued after the death of Mexican Mafia cofounder Joe Morgan, a one-time resident of Eagle Rock who died of cancer in prison. Although the Mexican Mafia has only a few hundred members, it has power over most of the 80,000 members of Southern California’s Latino street gangs, including the 800-plus Avenues. Street gangs abide by the rules of the Mafia, and in turn the Mafia provides protection for gang members when they are incarcerated. The Mafia controls the distribution of narcotics and earns revenue by taxing drug dealers in areas controlled by gangs. Failure to pay taxes is death, and there is a rule against cooperating with law enforcement. Allegiance to the Mafia is first, above family, religion and community.

The first major law-enforcement crackdown came in the early 1990s, when authorities sought to break the stranglehold of the prison Mafia on the Latino street gang. An 18-month federal investigation produced more than 300 secret videotapes and audio recordings. In the end, Alex “Pee Wee” Aguirre, who has an Avenues clique called the Pee Wee Gangsters named after him, was indicted along with 12 others.

The six-month trial marked the first time that federal authorities in Los Angeles used the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute against a gang. Most defendants were found guilty in May 1997 of murdering seven people, including three advisers on Edward James Olmos’ 1992 Mexican Mafia movie American Me. Aguirre, 32 at the time, was sentenced to life in federal prison in Marion, Illinois.

The death of 3-year-old Stephanie Kuhen in 1995 catapulted the gang into national headlines. Kuhen and five other family members were returning from a birthday party on September 17 when they made a wrong turn down a dead-end alley dubbed “Avenue of the Assassins” on Isabel Street in Cypress Park. Gang members surrounded their car and began to shoot inside. Kuhen was killed instantly, and her stepfather and younger brother were injured. A few days later, President Clinton denounced the gang and pledged federal money to curb gang violence.

Months later, the Community Law Enforcement and Recovery (CLEAR) program was born, freeing up $1 million in federal funding to hire a team of 14 more police officers, a few prosecutors and probation officers to concentrate on gang violence.

By 1997, gang crime in northeast L.A. went down 30 percent. That same year, Anthony Gabriel Rodriguez, Manuel Rosales Jr. and Hugo Gomez were given sentences of 54 years and eight months to life for the murder of Kuhen and the attempted murders of her stepfather and brother.

By 2003, gang crime was on the rise, prompting City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to obtain an injunction against the Avenues that barred members from congregating within a nearly 10-square-mile radius.

“I grew up in a neighborhood where many of my acquaintances were in gangs or victims of gangs,” said Delgadillo, who was raised in Highland Park. “There were kids that I grew up with who were smarter than me, better musicians than me, and they are not around today. We all lose for it.”

More recently, northeast L.A.’s Community Policing Advisory Board, which is made up of community members, started the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Mobilization project, which targets high-crime areas. On a monthly basis, volunteers walk door-to-door and pass out questionnaires and pamphlets with emergency numbers.

The higher cost of living has also played a part in the clean-up efforts. Housing prices have tripled in the area over the last five years. In the Highland Park flats, a two-bedroom bungalow sells for $385,000 to $425,000. In the hills, the same goes for $575,000. Rental apartment costs have also skyrocketed. A one-bedroom in Highland Park costs about $900 a month, a $400 increase from five years ago. As a result, low-income families are moving out to cheaper areas like Lancaster and Palmdale, which have seen an increase in gang-related activity over the years.

“People are moving away because they can’t afford to live in the area anymore,” said Officer Galindo. “They are going to move into other areas and cause problems over there.”

When the elder Aguirre went off to prison in early 1995, control of the Avenues fell to his 14-year-old brother, “Little Pee Wee” Aguirre. It was not easy for many of the hardcore gangsters to take orders from the 5-foot-4 shot-caller. Testimony from the spring trial showed how the elder Aguirre, through a network inside and outside of prison, continued to direct the powerful drug-distribution network.

The Avenues’ boss received a life sentence for the murder of Mexican Mafia member Manuel “Rocky” Luna, an unpaid adviser on Olmos’ movie. The movie had angered Mexican Mafia members because of its depiction of the excesses of a gangster’s life. Luna’s body was found slumped over the wheel of a car in the parking lot of the Ramona Gardens housing project in 1993. Aguirre also was convicted of the attempted murder of six Cypress Park gang members, all of whom he had shaken down for tax money, and for conspiring to kill gang member Donald “Little Man” Ortiz.

It was not long before Little Pee Wee got himself into trouble doing his and his brother’s bidding.

Joseph Torres, a 27-year-old reputed member of the Avenues, became the first known casualty of Little Pee Wee. He was found shot to death on Isabel Drive on July 22, 1995. According to court testimony, Torres was killed because he was collecting taxes in an area once run by Alex Aguirre but was giving the proceeds to another Mafia member, who was trying to expand his turf. He was executed for his disobedience.

On August 14, 1995, a reputed drug dealer named Alan Downey, 31, was found dead, lying across the front seat of his car on Eagle Rock Boulevard. His girlfriend Judy Gutierrez later told the police Downey worked for Alex Aguirre but refused to pay taxes to him for the drugs he was selling out of a bar in Highland Park.

“Somebody gave me the message that I would have to start paying taxes. Fuck that. I don’t pay rent to anybody,” he allegedly told Gutierrez.

According to court testimony, Downey had complained about the quality of the cocaine he was getting from the Aguirres, and had decided to get the drugs from another source.

Raul Rodriguez, a 27-year-old Alpine gang member, was killed on April 11, 1996, on the orders of Little Pee Wee. His crime against the Avenues: snitching on a gangbanger named Richard “Stalker” Ramirez, whom he told police had killed someone at a New Year’s Eve party the year before.

At the time of his death, Rodriguez worked at a factory with his father making wood frames and lived at home with his parents in Highland Park. “He was a very funny guy. He was the one who made us laugh at the house,” said Rodriguez' sister, Rachel Sierra, whose parents have custody of Rodriguez’ now 16-year-old daughter. “I am not saying that he was an angel. I feel he didn’t deserve to be killed. My father suffers every day. My mother can’t even talk about it.”

It proved hard for the younger Aguirre to rule with the iron fist of his brother.

“That indictment [against the elder Aguirre] in 1995 broke the head off the serpent,” said Berdin. “Other people have surfaced and a power struggle has ensued between different members of the Avenues street gang. Because Alex Aguirre was in federal custody he couldn’t maintain control. He had a group of people who were loyal to him, but as other people considered the man’s plight that he was doing life in another state, it left the door open for others to exert control.”

The powerful Alex Aguirre could do nothing to protect his brother from the testimony of two ex-Avenues’ members, who knew enough about these three crimes to threaten Little Pee Wee’s hold on the gang.”

For Benjamin “Sleepy” Garcia, becoming an Avenues gang member was a given. Hailing from the mostly Latino neighborhood of Glassell Park, Garcia was raised by a single mother and grew up with his five brothers on Division Street, an area so dangerous in the 1970s that gang members nicknamed it Little Vietnam because a lot of people were getting shot. Like his older brothers, he became enamored of the gang life early on. At the age of 11, Garcia was “jumped in” — a form of initiation — into the Avenues by his 14-year-old brother who shot him in the leg.

“He beat me up pretty good and shot me with a BB gun, so I would know what it was like to be shot,” said the tall, heavy-set 37-year-old former gang member–turned-plumber at the May trial.

Garcia began gangbanging every chance he got when his older brother was shot and injured by rival gang members. He started carrying a gun, which he bought off a neighborhood drug dealer, at the age of 12. His daily activities included drive-by shootings at rival gang members, beatings, carjackings and kidnappings. His gun of choice was a 9 mm.

Cypress Park gang members shot him in the early 1980s after he was asked his gang affiliation. “I took it as a gang challenge. That is the kind of mind I had.” He was shot again in 1986, this time by Highland Park gang members.

“If you are from a gang you got to say, ‘Where you from?,’” he said. “You have to deal with it. It doesn’t matter what they have coming at you. You had to act that way. There is no way around it. You would die saying Avenues. If you didn’t say Avenues, you would be in worse trouble. Even if you were going to lose.”

By 1989, Garcia had married and moved to San Diego, in an attempt to get away from the gang life. His stint as a law-abiding citizen lasted less than a year. “I would get calls from my brother telling me who was getting killed. I felt like I owed them something so I went back in 1990.”

Garcia was ambitious and aspired to move up in the ranks of the Mexican Mafia and eventually become a soldier and then a full-fledged member. It was a matter of earning his stripes. He came a step closer to his dream when he met Alex “Pee Wee” Aguirre in 1993. Aguirre, who had once dated Garcia’s sister, recruited the then-25-year-old gangster to help him take over the distribution of drugs from the Mexican Nationals, who were dealing drugs on Drew Street in Avenues territory.

“I wanted to be just like him,” he said. “He was a mobster. A Mexican Mafia member. The Paisas [Mexican Nationals] were stabbing and robbing Avenues. They had the area sewed up. If you wanted drugs you had to go through them. Alex wanted to take it over.”

Garcia’s newfound relationship with Alex Aguirre was wrought with dangerous consequences. In 1994, the two gangsters had a falling out after Garcia borrowed Aguirre’s father’s vehicle and didn’t return it until the next day. As punishment, Aguirre took his gun and ordered Garcia to pay more taxes. Garcia refused, drawing the first of two “green lights” — marking him for death or assault for defying Aguirre’s will.

Garcia said he later patched things up with the older Aguirre, who introduced him in 1995 to Alan Downey. At the time, Downey was allegedly running drugs for Alex Aguirre in Burbank. Aguirre wanted Garcia to work closely with Downey and learn how to collect taxes. Eventually Garcia was given the territories of Burbank, Sunland and Vineland where he collected taxes from local drug dealers. He was well on his way until the elder Aguirre’s arrest in May 1995.

Garcia soon had a run-in with Little Pee Wee, who seemed to him to be too young — and too small — to be in charge.

“’What is it going to take for you to believe I call the shots here?’ he said to me. I said he was not a Mafia member,” said Garcia. “I wanted to take him to his house and ask his mother. I would never hit the little kid because of his brother. I never tried to hurt him. I wanted to know if he was making things up. It was hard for me to believe I would take orders from a kid. It didn’t make sense to me.”

Downey was also having trouble with Little Pee Wee. Behind his back, he accused Little Pee Wee of selling him drugs at exorbitant rates and taxing him on top of it. He complained that Little Pee Wee smoked the profits and kept the money for himself. Garcia passed on the complaint to Little Pee Wee in front of a gang member’s house on Division Street. It was a big mistake. Garcia said Little Pee Wee pulled a gun on him, and the two gangsters struggled for it. Another gang member entered the fray and stabbed Garcia in the chin. The upshot: Little Pee Wee called Downey a liar and ordered Garcia to deal with him.

“I said the guy is worth more alive to me,” he said. “Alan owed me a lot of money. I didn’t say I wouldn’t, but just that he had to pay me my money first.”

Later, in a meeting at Downey’s house, Garcia got into another fight with Little Pee Wee about the handling of Mafia business. “He was running amok, taking people’s guns and robbing them. What he was doing was wrong. The mob is serious. If you didn’t do what he wanted, he would talk to his brother and his brother would ‘put you in the hat’ [place you on the “green light” list]. He wasn’t throwing his weight around. He was throwing his brother’s weight around.”

Garcia said he ended up getting beaten up for his troubles that day. It was also the last time he saw Downey alive.

Garcia ended up in trouble again with the law in 1996 after he attacked two rival gang members who robbed him of his carpentry tools. He was sentenced to state prison for six years in 1997. While in prison, Garcia was approached by homicide detectives about the murders of Rodriguez, Downey and Torres. “I was not forthcoming so they got pissed off,” he said. When he was paroled in 2001, Garcia cooperated with the police because he feared his parole officer might make trouble for him if he refused to help bring down Little Pee Wee and another gangster named Scott “Gatto” Gleason, 37. “I wanted to keep myself from going back to prison for some BS I didn’t do.”

A few months later, Little Pee Wee was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to kill Rodriguez, and for killing Torres and Downey. Gleason was already serving time in state prison. Garcia received immunity for testifying against them.

“I cooperated because they already knew,” he said. “I didn’t lie about it. I told them the truth. I was already part of the puzzle.”

James Maxson joined the street gang called The Insane Ones (TIO) when he was 14. On behalf of the gang, he robbed, stole and shot at rival gang members. He started carrying a gun at the age of 15.

Maxson was “jumped in” the Avenues when he was 20 years old and living on Benner Street in Highland Park. He started to hang out with Alex Aguirre in 1989 and began to collect taxes.

“I would either give the talk or back up the person talking,” said the 37-year-old former gang member. “If the dealer refused, we would take his drugs and assault him. He would eventually end up dead.”

Maxson collected taxes weekly from 15 to 50 drug dealers in the Highland Park and the Avenue 57 area with the help of two assistants. He would also find out from drug users what dealers were selling in the area. If he heard a new name, he would pay a visit, showing up with associates to let the dealer know that if he wanted to deal drugs, he would have to pay taxes.

“We would find out how much they sold,” he said. “We would monitor the dealers. If a dealer said he wasn’t going to pay taxes, we would shut him down, take his money, drugs and weapons away.”

Maxson said he collected $1,500 to $2,000 a week in taxes for the Mafia. He admitted to more than 30 assaults, dozens of robberies and four shootings, including a shootout at the house of a drug dealer who refused to pay taxes. In 1991, Maxson was sentenced to eight years in state prison for robbery and carjacking convertible Porsches from unsuspecting motorists.

Maxson was back on the streets in April 1996, and collecting taxes two weeks later. In early 1999, Maxson read in a local newspaper that he had been indicted along with 13 others and fled to Mexico with $5,000 in cash, leaving behind his wife and son. Maxson returned to Los Angeles six months later and turned himself in. “I was tired of my life of crime. “I wanted to get out of the lifestyle for my kid and me.” Under a plea agreement, Maxson pleaded guilty to racketeering and distribution of narcotics and served four years in federal prison. He was released in August 2002.

He now is an ironworker. At the May trial, he testified about the murders of Downey, Torres and Rodriguez.

Maxson told jurors that he first learned that Rodriguez was murdered one month after he got out of state prison in 1996. It was during a meeting with Gleason and Little Pee Wee at Danny’s Taco Stand on Figueroa Street. Gleason was talking about taking over the drug operation on Avenue 43 when he asked Maxson if he had heard about “his work” while Maxson was in state prison. “It was typical among mafia associates to talk about killings.”

Gleason allegedly told Maxson a few days later that Little Pee Wee gave him the gun to kill Rodriguez.

Maxson told the jury that the following year, he heard about the Downey murder while he was living in Glassell Park with his girlfriend, Little Pee Wee and Little Pee Wee’s girlfriend. Maxson told the jury that a fellow gangster, who was in county jail awaiting trial for another murder, had called to complain that he needed money for his defense and wasn’t getting it. Maxson said he assumed the inmate was arrested for the murder of Downey. “I told Richie that he wanted money,” said Maxson. “Richie said to tell him to stop crying. I am the one who shot Downey.” Maxson echoed Garcia’s testimony and said that Downey was selling out of a Highland Park bar and was not paying taxes.

That same year, Maxson said he heard about the murder of Torres from Little Pee Wee, who told him that Torres had made a move on Little Pee Wee and that another gang member “hit him with a big gun.”

“Torres had to go because he was collecting on Drew Street. It was Alex’s area,” said Maxson. “The order was to take him out.”

Little Pee Wee and Gleason were convicted solely on the testimony of Maxson and Garcia. Defense attorneys attacked the credibility of the ex-gangbangers without success. Gleason’s defense attorney called Maxson a “liar for hire.”

Prosecutors have relocated Maxson and Garcia for their protection, but they are not finished taking the stand against the Avenues. Maxson is now testifying against two other Avenues members charged in the killing of a 15-year-old gangster. Both will likely be called to the stand later this year against Avenues gang member Javier “Gangster” Marquez, who faces the death penalty if convicted of killing Downey and Torres.

The wheels of justice turn slowly for Luisa Prudhomme. Since the death of Anthony in 2000, she has visited Highland Park many times and tried to convince police to arrest the accomplice in her son’s killing. Police confirm they have the name of a suspect, but say they do not have enough evidence to arrest him. The case is no longer an active investigation, which upsets the mother. She says the police are too busy with other cases to re-interview witnesses, but she holds out hope that the FBI will take up her cause. The LAPD recently reinstated a $25,000 reward for information about Prudhomme's and Bowser's murders.

Until her son's murder is solved, she can‘t move on. She hears his voice every day. She keeps the last message he left on her answering machine on a small recorder in her purse. Once a day it goes off, his voice offering a greeting to her and her family. She is currently involved with Women Against Gun Violence and Parents of Murdered Children and plans to start up a non-profit of her own called the Murder Prevention Coalition.

“We want to make the public aware of how we treat murder as nothing. Murder is not entertainment. After Anthony died, I couldn’t do anything for months,” she said. “I went to group counseling, one-on-one counseling. Everything. I was devastated. My son had the right to live where he wanted,” she said. “If I can keep them from killing one other person, it is worth it.”
Last Updated ( Thursday, 14 July 2005 )

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Unread post by Christina Marie » June 29th, 2006, 10:17 pm

Good read

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Unread post by Burgundy » June 30th, 2006, 2:50 am

same shit ive been preaching since day one..

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Unread post by George » July 2nd, 2006, 7:34 pm

God damn Avenues?! What have people like me or my daughter ever done to them?! Simply cuz we are born with "Black" genes in us we must die????



Unread post by UmanH-ay » July 3rd, 2006, 3:11 am

ahhh you know them avenues, buncha cowards

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Unread post by Christina Marie » July 5th, 2006, 12:42 am

Gang Accused of Conspiring to Kill Blacks

Federal prosecutors allege that members of the Avenues in L.A. plotted to commit violence against African Americans.

By John Spano, Times Staff Writer

July 4, 2006

Jose Cruz is a walking testament to what happens when a member turns against the Avenues street gang.

He has 30 scars from the stab wounds he suffered in one attempt on his life — on his arms, torso and legs. In another attack, he was beaten so severely that he has a visible dent in his skull, according to court papers, "the size and shape of a pistol butt."

His street gang goes back five generations in Highland Park, which for Cruz is five miles and several lifetimes from the downtown courtroom where he is scheduled to testify as the star witness for the prosecution in the trial of a group of childhood friends.

Federal prosecutors, who launched their case last week, contend that the Avenues gang between 1994 and 2000 conspired to kill African Americans on their turf.

Men, women and children were harassed, terrorized, assaulted and slain as gang members sought to force black residents out of Latino neighborhoods, prosecutors said.

Authorities are using a federal hate-crime law based on the amendment to the U.S. Constitution that outlawed slavery, and another law created in the civil rights era, to go after four gang members. Barbara Bernstein, deputy chief of the criminal section of the civil rights divisions of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, is part of the prosecution team.

Attorneys for the defendants — Gilbert Saldana, Alejandro Martinez, Fernando Cazares and Porfirio Avila — have asserted that the federal government has no power to involve itself in a common street crime.

Defense attorney Reuven L. Cohen told jurors last week that one of the slayings cited in the charges — the 1999 shooting of Kenneth Wilson — was not a hate crime but "a simple gang killing committed out of boredom."

Cohen said the crimes sprang from the "sad" truth of "a tension that exists between African American gangs and Latino gangs."

The first of three former gang members, each in custody and hoping for leniency, testified Monday. Jesse Diaz, who described himself as a tagger from age 12, told jurors the Avenues decided to fight the "infestation" of blacks in Highland Park with a systematic terror campaign designed to run them out of the neighborhood.

Diaz, who has 10 more years to serve in prison for attempted murder, said the Avenues hated all rival gangs. But the antipathy for blacks was different, he said.

Highland Park became the scene of a game in which Diaz's group of Avenues actually competed with another "clique" to run the most blacks out of Highland Park, he testified.

Two other informants, one serving a long state prison term and the other a deported immigrant, will tell jurors that Saldana shot Wilson repeatedly in 1999, explaining that Saldana had just acquired a gun and "wanted to test it out."

One told the FBI in interviews that the gang got an order in 1998 from the Mexican Mafia prison gang to "kill any blacks … on sight."

Rick Ortiz, a Los Angeles police spokesman, called the Avenues a "bully" gang that uses its large numbers to intimidate.

"The Avenues have been around for a long time," Ortiz said. "They are the largest gang in the northeast area, with over 500 documented, active members."

Although gang members have for years been subject to a court order that limits their activities, they remain active, authorities said. Their racial antipathy is an outgrowth of prison culture, in which rival street gang members band together by race and then bring those attitudes back to the streets, Ortiz said.

"When you have gang members standing out on the street corners, they intimidate people," he said. "They may commit a minor offense, like vandalism, but people are so afraid of them they won't call in. It diminishes the quality of life in the community."

Heinrich Keifer, president of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, said racial violence by gang members is not currently a problem in the area.

"Our biggest problem is not so much gangs, although some members of the community are intimidated. It's more the taggers," Keifer said. "They create that feeling that the community is destroyed. The gangs aren't ruling the turf. They're not necessarily muscling people out. There was some of that in the past.

"The area is on the rebound, so much so that many Westsiders are moving in," Keifer said, citing the historic heritage of the area northeast of downtown. "Many of the poorer people are struggling with the rising rents."

As part of his strategy in the case, defense attorney Cohen plans to target the witnesses' credibility.

Diaz and the two other former gang members are lying to curry favor with prosecutors, Cohen said. Defendants Saldana and Avila are in prison, serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for murder. Cazares is in custody on a parole violation. Martinez's custody status could not be determined.

Prosecutors say the gang members conspired in various acts of violence, including:

• Wilson's 1999 killing, which occurred when he returned to his Avenue 52 home late at night after a party, his nephew, Duane Williams, testified Thursday. Wilson was shot repeatedly by Saldana and two others because of his race, Assistant U.S. Atty. Alex Bustamante told jurors.

• Diaz testified that gang members beat a black homeless man with metal weapons, and attacked an African American man speaking on a pay telephone from behind and severely beat him.

Another black man was assaulted on the street because he was walking with a Latina, according to Bustamante.

• Finally, authorities say they have linked the killings of two other men to the Avenues, partly through ballistics. The victims were Christopher Bauser, who was shot execution-style at a bus stop in 2000, and Anthony Prudomme, also killed on a street.

Bustamante offered a chilling view of the mentality of the Avenues as the trial opened in U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson's courtroom. Martinez was driving a van carrying five fellow Avenues members when he spotted Wilson.

"Anybody want to kill a nigger?" Bustamante said.

"Those are not my words, ladies and gentlemen," Bustamante added, gesturing across the room to Martinez. "They are his."

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Unread post by Christina Marie » July 5th, 2006, 12:54 am

Feds using Hate-Crime law to Prosecute LA's Biggest Gang

In a novel way to combat gang-related crime, the Federal government is currently trying four members of the Avenues gang for conspiring to kill African Americans so as to intimidate other black families out of Highland Park. Typically prosecution comes from the city or state level, but the LA Times today reports that the Constitution is being thrown at the gang members.

Authorities are using a federal hate-crime law based on the amendment to the U.S. Constitution that outlawed slavery, and another law created in the civil rights era, to go after four gang members. Barbara Bernstein, deputy chief of the criminal section of the civil rights divisions of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, is part of the prosecution team.
The defense claims that one of the murders being discussed happened not because of hate, but because of nothing better to do, describing it as "a simple gang killing committed out of boredom."

We would have loved to have sat in the jury when the defense attorney said something along the lines of "my client, a young man living in Los Angeles, simply could find nothing to do in LA. And then a gentleman who just happened to be Black crossed his path and that of the bullet from my client's gun."

http://www.laist.com/archives/2006/07/0 ... t_gang.php

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Unread post by Christina Marie » July 6th, 2006, 1:49 am

Blacks Were Targeted, Witness Insists

A Highland Park gang member testifies in a civil rights conspiracy trial that a 1999 murder was part of a racial cleansing campaign.

By John Spano, Times Staff Writer
July 6, 2006

A former Avenues street gang member acknowledged Wednesday that he had lied repeatedly about the murder of a black man who authorities allege was the target of an organized campaign to harass, threaten and kill African Americans in Highland Park.

The defense in the federal conspiracy case pushed hard to suggest that the violent incidents Jesse Diaz recounted were directed at black gang members, and not all African Americans. But Diaz pushed back, testifying that he repeatedly lied to police, federal agents and grand jurors but in the end told the truth, that the 1999 murder of Kenneth Wilson, 38, was part of a racial cleansing campaign.

Federal authorities need to show that the murder was part of a concerted effort between 1995 and 2000 to push blacks out of the largely blue-collar neighborhood in order to prove their unusual civil rights conspiracy case.

Prosecutors, including a top official in the civil rights division of the Justice Department in Washington, are using a Reconstruction-era law to prosecute four gang members for what they call a racially motivated conspiracy to deny blacks the right to select where they want to live.

It was the second full day of testimony for Diaz, one of three members of the feared northeast Los Angeles-area street gang set to testify in the case.

Diaz is serving 20 years for the attempted murder of a black man in Highland Park on May 2, 1999. He testified in tan prison garb, his left arm shackled to the witness box.

Wilson was gunned down on the street, sustaining wounds from three different weapons. Prosecutors allege the conspiracy also included two other murders, that of Anthony Prudhomme on Nov. 3, 2000, and of Christopher Bauser on Nov. 11, 2000.

Defendants Gilbert Saldana, Alejandro Martinez, Fernando Cazares and Porfirio Avila were seated during the testimony with their counsel, behind a three-tiered set of risers built into the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson. In contrast to Diaz, who appeared in prison garb, each defendant was neatly dressed in a pressed shirt. Avila wore thick eyeglasses, and Saldana peered over the rim of reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose.

Saldana and Avila are both serving state prison terms of life without parole for murder. Avila was convicted in state court of killing Wilson; authorities said police lacked evidence at the time to charge him with a hate crime.

The defense disputes that the murder was part of a campaign, suggesting instead that it was a typical gang killing committed "out of boredom." The defense also has cited a general antipathy between violent street gangs, including black and Latino gangs.

Diaz's familiarity with criminal procedure was apparent as he sparred with Deputy Federal Public Defender Reuven L. Cohen, who represents Saldana. The cross-examination covered, in part, seven years of association with federal and Los Angeles law enforcement officials, interviews and testimony.

"I don't remember," Diaz responded at one point. "Would you like me to refresh my memory?" — parroting a phrase lawyers often use to prompt witnesses.

"I would love to refresh your memory," Cohen replied.

The day included fewer of the racial epithets that punctuated Diaz's earlier testimony. One white female juror had physically recoiled in apparent disgust as Diaz described the Avenues' alleged hatred of African Americans.

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/state ... news-state

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Unread post by Christina Marie » July 9th, 2006, 3:37 pm

A Gang War With a Twist
Gangbangers in L.A. on trial for deadly hate crimes.

By Andrew Murr

July 17, 2006 issue - Kenneth Wilson was murdered looking for a parking spot in Latino gang territory. Driving in the working-class Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park in 1999, the African-American man passed a stolen van filled with members of the feared Avenues street gang. Seeing Wilson, one of the Latino gangsters asked: "You wanna kill a n----r?" according to one gang member who has become an informant for federal prosecutors. "F--- it!" the others agreed, as three of them barreled out of the van and gunned down the 38-year-old.

Was Wilson killed because he was black? That's what federal prosecutors in L.A. contend, and they're taking the unusual approach of prosecuting four of the Avenues gang-bangers under a civil-rights-era statute and a hate-crime law based on the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. The men are on trial in a high-security courtroom, charged with a six-year conspiracy to enforce an alleged gang "policy" to intimidate blacks into steering clear of predominantly Latino Highland Park. Kenneth Wilson was killed "because the Avenues had promised each other ... that they would drive African-Americans out of the neighborhood by threats, by force, by murder," prosecutor Alex Bustamante told jurors in his opening statement.

The heart of the case against Gilbert (Lucky) Saldaña, Alex (Bird) Martinez, Fernando (Sneaky) Cazares and Porfirio (Dreamer) Avila—a fifth Avenues gangster is still a fugitive—will come from the testimony of three former gang members turned informants. The informants will attempt to connect the defendants to a series of two dozen assaults, threats and intimidations between 1995 and 2001—including the murders of two local black men, Chris Bowser and Anthony Prudhomme.

Defense attorneys acknowledge that their clients were members of the Avenues, a gang with roots reaching back four generations. But they maintain that the violence was part of gang life, not a vendetta against blacks. "It wasn't racially based," said attorney Mike Shannon, who represents Cazares. Already, the defense team is trying to discredit the informants, pointing out that they have been granted immunity: Jesse Diaz and Jose de la Cruz, who is serving a life sentence for Wilson's murder, are both in state prison and are hoping to receive reduced sentences in exchange for helping prosecutors.

Meanwhile, two of the defendants are already serving life sentences. If prosecutors have their way, all four will be behind bars for life—making the streets of Highland Park safer not only for blacks but for everyone.



Unread post by oldsschool666 » July 10th, 2006, 2:19 pm

afakasi wrote:ahhh you know them avenues, buncha cowards
Dont be labeling a whole for a few foolio.

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Unread post by chupon106 » July 24th, 2006, 10:11 pm

oldsschool666 wrote:
afakasi wrote:ahhh you know them avenues, buncha cowards
Dont be labeling a whole for a few foolio.
i agree. i got homies from that area and the avenues put it down on there rival clicas homes. just cuz they attack innocent blacks doesnt mean they only attack innocent ppl. they put in work on most of the mexican gangs in the area. that gang injunction against them didnt hurt them a bit.

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Highland Park Gang Trial Paints a Portrait of Hate

Unread post by Christina Marie » July 25th, 2006, 1:08 am

Highland Park Gang Trial Paints a Portrait of Hate
By Joe Mozingo, Times Staff Writer
July 25, 2006

On his dead-end street of Section 8 apartments and slumping clapboard bungalows, Christopher Bowser cut an audacious figure for a young black man who had just arrived on the turf of a Latino gang with a record of killing going back half a century.

Whenever Bowser left the Highland Park apartment he shared with his mother, he cruised the streets with a boombox thundering rap music, acting as if "the neighborhood was his neighborhood," in the words of one gang member.

The Avenues 43, who rule the weedy, narrow southern handle of Highland Park between Mt. Washington and the Pasadena Freeway, hated him. According to police and prosecutors, they beat him repeatedly. They called him mayate, a Spanish obscenity for blacks. They tried to run him down with a car. They robbed him and threatened to kill him if he didn't leave.

Despite the attacks, Bowser stayed and played his rap for five tough years — until Dec. 11, 2000, when he was shot three times in the head while standing at a bus stop. Police pulled up as the last sigh of air escaped from his lungs.

Bowser's slaying at the age of 28 and the killing of two other black men in Highland Park between 1995 and 2000 are grist for the federal hate crime trial of five Avenues members that is wrapping up this week in a downtown federal courtroom. The prosecutors allege that the Avenues launched a campaign of violence to force black people out of Highland Park in the 1990s.

This is not a case, they say, of a Latino gang fighting a rival black gang over turf, crimes typically prosecuted in state court and categorized under the everyday rubric of gang violence. The victims were targeted simply because they were black, they contend.

This is the first high-profile case in which the Justice Department has prosecuted a gang of color as a hate group, using laws traditionally employed to go after white supremacist groups like skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan, several federal officials said. The attorney general sent Bobbi Bernstein, a deputy chief of the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division in Washington, to help local Assistant U.S. Atty. Alex Bustamante argue the case.

In essence, they are trying to prove that the gang's activity amounted to a conspiracy to violate the victims' rights to live and walk the public streets of Highland Park.

Deputy Federal Public Defender Reuven Cohen, representing one of the defendants, said the Bush administration is attempting to "sell a fiction to the people of Los Angeles."

Cohen said the killings and assaults at issue were tragic, but not hate crimes. He argued that two frustrated detectives who did not have enough evidence to try a suspect in state court concocted the notion of a racial conspiracy so they could seek a conviction in federal court.

Prosecutors, in his account, are overlooking the nuance and complexity of race relations on the rough streets of Los Angeles.

"The evidence that you will hear will no doubt reveal that in Los Angeles, there is a sad, but very real, tension between gangs," Cohen said in his opening statement. "There is tension between and among Latino gangs. And there is tension between Latino and African American gangs.

"That tension includes the use of racial epithets. It includes the use of threats. And it includes the use of force."

Whatever the gang's motivation, testimony about their actions has been chilling. Two Avenues 43 members — a clique of the larger Avenues gang — told of riding in a stolen van with four cohorts when they came upon a black man parking his Cadillac. According to testimony, one of the defendants, his head and chest tattooed with skulls, blithely blurted to his homies, "Hey, wanna kill a nigger?"

The man, Kenneth Wilson, 38, who was visiting a friend, was shot to death as his car slowly rolled down the street.

Prosecutors allege that the gang targeted African Americans indiscriminately: Members shot a 15-year-old boy riding a bike; pistol-whipped a jogger; knocked a woman off a bike and beat her in the head; beat a man at a payphone with a metal club; and drew the outlines of human bodies and scrawled a racial slur in chalk on a family's driveway.

And they allegedly kicked in the door to a man's apartment and fatally shot him in the head while he slept.

Officials are just beginning to get a sense of the prevalence of hate violence by street gangs. Although most gang members attack people of their own race, the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations' latest human rights report said there were 41 recorded cases of interracial gang-related hate crime in 2004. The real number would be much higher but most victims are afraid to go to police, the commission said.

"In the overwhelming number of these cases, Latino gang members spontaneously attacked African American victims who had no gang affiliation," the commission wrote.

It said conflicts between racially based prison gangs like the Mexican Mafia "can have a significant impact on racialized gang violence in L.A. County and contribute to the levels of hate violence involving gangs."

Police detectives say that the attacks in Highland Park have subsided, and are no longer a problem. The Avenues have kept a low profile after a series of convictions and a city injunction that prevents them from meeting publicly.

But in the 1990s, not only black people but their Latino friends faced gang reprisals, according to testimony in the hate crimes case.

ADVERTISEMENTPedro Avelar, 24, became friends with Bowser and another black youth named Junior when he was 12. He testified that the Avenues harassed him so much that by the time he was 16, he had to stop being seen with his black friends.

"They said they would kill me," he testified. One day around 1997, he said, "some guys just pulled up and hit Junior in the face." There were more epithets.

"Junior moved out after Chris was killed," Avelar said.

Tanya Alamin told jurors that she was walking out of a liquor store in neighboring Eagle Rock with her black boyfriend one night when four men pulled up in a Cadillac and shouted a Spanish slur. The couple tried to keep walking, but one man jumped out and began beating her boyfriend with a bar used to lock a steering wheel.

Alamin ran to a payphone to call police and the attackers left. Later that night, police pulled over a Cadillac like the one Alamin described. One of the passengers fled toward some houses and escaped. The driver, questioned by police, was Fernando "Sneaky" Cazares, one of the men now on trial.

The others are Alejandro "Bird" Martinez; Porfirio "Dreamer" Avila; Gilbert "Lucky" Saldana; and Merced "Shadow" Cambero Jr., who is a fugitive. Saldana and Avila are already serving state prison sentences of life without the possibility of parole for murder — Avila for Bowser's killing, Saldana for an unrelated case. Martinez was arrested in 2004 on the charges in this case. Cazares is in custody on a parole violation.

In the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson, the four defendants, their floor shackles hidden behind a desk, have eschewed the gang look. Dressed in ties and sweaters, they peruse legal documents over reading glasses and confer with their attorneys, sharing laughs with legal aides.

At one point, prosecutors displayed photos of their gangbanging days on a screen above their heads. Three sported large tattoos of the gang's mascot — a bullet-pierced skull with a fedora and a fur collar. Martinez apparently grew his hair to mask a tattoo on his head that says "43 Kills for Thrills."

The Avenues gang — named for the avenues that cross Figueroa Street — has a long and murderous history going back at least to the 1950s, when it was linked to many shootouts and killings. According to one news report, its ranks swelled after the forced displacement of hundreds of families from Chavez Ravine, now home to Dodger Stadium, and the Rose Hill areas.

Highland Park, blanketing the hills and ravines northeast of downtown, has long been mostly Latino, although more diverse than parts of the Eastside. Asians, African Americans and non-Latino whites make up about 30% of a population of about 64,000, and professionals of every color are moving in to fix up the area's Craftsman homes.

The Avenues claim all of Highland Park and parts of Cypress Park, Glassell Park and Eagle Rock as their turf. They gained national notoriety in 1995 when several members opened fire on a car that made a wrong turn into a Cypress Park alley, killing 3-year-old Stephanie Kuhen.

Like Eastside gangs, the Avenues are linked to the Mexican Mafia prison gang, known on the street as Eme after the Spanish word for the letter M. Law enforcement officials fear gang hate crimes could become more common as violence between the Mexican Mafia and Aryan Brotherhood spreads to the streets outside.

In a mid-1990s federal racketeering case against 12 Eme defendants, an Avenues leader named Alex "Pee Wee" Aguirre was convicted of murdering an unpaid consultant who helped Edward James Olmos make "American Me," a 1992 movie that the gang did not like.

One informant in the current case told an FBI agent that the Eme had ordered the Avenues to "Kill any blacks … on sight." The judge ruled out testimony about the Eme connection as being too prejudicial.

This case came about when Los Angeles police detectives took the Wilson killing, then 3 years old, to the U.S. attorney's office in 2002. They hit a statutory obstacle in trying to bring Saldana, who had not yet been convicted of his other crimes, to trial in state court. The case grew from there — based largely on the testimony of Jose de la Cruz, the only Avenues member convicted in the Wilson murder, and Jesse Diaz, an Avenues member in prison for attempted murder of a police officer.

If the campaign of terror the prosecution alleges indeed occurred, it is difficult to say if it pushed African Americans out of Highland Park, or kept others from coming in.

In 1990, there were 1,246 African Americans in Highland Park. In 2000, there were 1,974, according to census records.

Warren Hill, Sr., 58, moved to Highland Park from South Los Angeles 15 years ago. As a black man, he has never been harassed by the Avenues. But he keeps his head down when they're around, as he did with black gangs in his old neighborhood. And he keeps off the street at night.

"If you have Avenues standing right there," he said one recent afternoon, sitting at a bus stop, "I could sit down here and they wouldn't do a thing. It's not them harassing blacks period.

"It's what teenagers do. If my son walked by them, and shot them a look, then there could be trouble."

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LA Weekly/''They Wanted All Blacks Out''

Unread post by Christina Marie » July 26th, 2006, 9:30 pm

''They Wanted All Blacks Out''
Federal trial exposes the Avenues of hate

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - 6:00 pm

The three African-American men had just spent another evening at the Lodge, a popular gay bar in North Hollywood. It had become a ritual for 38-year-old Kenneth Kurry Wilson, his nephew, Dewayne Williams, 29, and their friend Frank Eubanks, ever since Williams moved into Highland Park, the predominantly Latino neighborhood just a jog north on Figueroa from downtown. Wilson, dressed in a yellow shirt, black jeans and his trademark black boots, was the designated driver. By the time the three men pulled up in front of Williams’ place in a two-story apartment building on Avenue 52, it was around 3:30 a.m. on a Sunday. By then, Williams was passed out drunk in the back seat of the car. Wilson went to park their ride, a gold ’84 Fleetwood Cadillac, while his nephew’s roommates helped Williams up the stairs and into his apartment.

While Wilson scoured Avenue 52 for a spot, six Avenues gang members in a stolen van were winding down an evening of looking for rival gangsters who were “slipping” — or letting their guard down. The gangsters wound their way through the narrow streets of Highland Park, Cypress Park and Dogtown gang territory, crossing out other gang tags and spray-painting “Aves” and “Avenidas” along the way. That night they were on a “mission,” so they wore gloves, dark clothing and beanies. Their scanner was programmed to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Northeast Division frequency so they would know about any police cruisers patrolling the area. The gangsters were carrying a .357 revolver, a 9 mm semiautomatic and a 12-gauge shotgun.

They spotted Wilson driving the Cadillac as they made their way down Avenue 52. They watched Wilson make a U-turn and slow down to park. The driver said to his friends: “Hey, wanna kill a nigger?”

Little else was said except “Fuck it.” That’s the scene as described by Jose de la Cruz, a former Avenues gang member, who testified this month in federal court that he and two other gangsters then jumped out of the van and ran toward the Cadillac. All three men opened fire, blowing out the Cadillac’s back and side windows, and one of its tires. A single bullet entered the back of Wilson’s neck, severing his carotid artery and lodging near his throat. He died within minutes.

“He dropped,” said de la Cruz about Wilson’s murder, on April 18, 1999. “He just stopped moving.”

De la Cruz and another Avenues gangster, Jesse Diaz, were two of the key witnesses to testify in the ongoing hate-crime trial in federal court in downtown Los Angeles. Federal prosecutors alleged that Gilbert “Lucky” Saldana, 27, Alejandro “Bird” Martinez, 29, Fernando “Sneaky” Cazares, 26, and Porfirio “Dreamer” Avila, 31 — all members of the Avenues gang clique known as Aves 43 — agreed to kill in order to run black people out of Highland Park. Another defendant, Merced “Shadow” Cambero, 28, is a fugitive. The jury should begin deliberations this week.

Both de la Cruz and Diaz claimed that they were in the van on the night of Wilson’s murder along with the defendants — testimony their defense attorneys disputed. De La Cruz is currently serving a 45-year sentence in state prison for his role in Wilson’s slaying. Diaz is serving a 20-year state sentence for the attempted murder of a police officer. Both men agreed to testify against their childhood chums in the hope that they would get time knocked off their sentences.

“They are not choirboys,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Bustamante about de la Cruz and Diaz, who were both shackled to the witness box. “They are in jail for violent crimes. They are not testifying out of the goodness of their hearts. They have agreements with the government.”

Porfirio Avila (top) and Alejandro Martinez (bottom) face hate-crime charges in federal court. Codefendant Merced Cambero is a fugitive.
In 2003, Diaz and de la Cruz were contacted by the FBI, who were investigating the possibility of bringing hate-crime charges against the Aves 43 after local law enforcement informed federal authorities about a rash of hate-crime-related incidents. (See Pelisek’s related story, “Avenues of Death,” at laweekly.com.) The two men agreed to cooperate if the government helped them in their efforts to have their sentences reduced. Prosecutors agreed to send letters to Diaz and de la Cruz’s state sentencing judges.

In 2004, federal authorities indicted Saldana, Cazares, Martinez and Cambero on federal weapons and civil rights charges. On November 16, 2005, Avila was added to the list of those federally indicted. While on the lam, Cambero was arrested under a false name by Ventura law-enforcement officials but was let go accidentally. On another occasion, police believe they chased him over a fence in Highland Park.

In addition to de la Cruz and Diaz’s testimonies, the 12 jurors heard from black residents of Highland Park who said that they had been harassed, attacked and subjected to racial slurs by the Aves 43. These allegations, which occurred between 1995 and 2001, included the attempted murder of a homeless man, racial slurs directed at a girl in a supermarket and a black police officer, and the drawing of chalk outlines of human bodies in the driveway of a black resident’s home. Other black residents were repeatedly told to move out of the Highland Park neighborhood and called racial slurs like “nigger” and “mayate.”

“They wanted all blacks out of the neighborhood, not just African-American men, not just African-American gang members but all African-American women and children,” said Bustamante.

The federal hate-crime trial also involves the murder of two other black men, Christopher Bowser and Anthony Prudhomme, who were both killed in 2000. Cazares, Cambero, Martinez and Saldana are charged with violating a federal hate-crime statute, which is based on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawing slavery, by allegedly killing Wilson because of his race, and while he was on a public street. (Civil rights laws say everyone has the right to use public streets without the threat of violence.) The four defendants are also charged with using a firearm. They and Avila face conspiracy charges for allegedly interfering with the housing rights of black residents in Highland Park through violence and threats.

In the June 28 opening statements, deputy federal public defender Reuven Cohen accused the government of turning the murders into a “conspiracy” instead of a common street crime. And he said Diaz and de la Cruz repeatedly told lies that the detectives and prosecutors fell for. Diaz, he claimed, wasn’t even present during the Wilson murder. “This indictment was meant to grab headlines,” said Manuel Araujo, co-deputy federal public defender. “It is based on fiction.”

Defense attorneys also argued that the statute was “unconstitutional” and that it was specifically designed to target not street crimes, but the bigotry that interfered with the civil rights historically denied blacks in the Southern states.

Porfirio “Dreamer” Avila is currently serving life without the possibility of parole in state prison for his role in the 2000 killings. Except for Avila and “Lucky” Saldana, who is in prison for unrelated murder charges, the remaining defendants, who were allegedly members of one of the most active and violent cliques of the Avenues, face life terms in federal prison if convicted.

It is the first time that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has used the hate-crime statute against a street gang. It has been used in the past to prosecute a black teenager for his role in the murder of an Orthodox Jew, and against a group of neo-Nazi skinheads who terrorized blacks and Hispanics in a Montana park.

More hate-crime cases are on the horizon for the Avenues. Avenues member Freddy Bailon, 24, goes on trial in Los Angeles County District Court for the racially motivated attempted murder of a black man in Highland Park in 2005.

The Avenues take their name from the numbered corridors that slice through Figueroa Street, Highland Park’s bustling main drag, home to mom-and-pop grocery stores, check-cashing businesses, nail salons, swap meets, car washes, fast-food joints and a smattering of restaurants, galleries and nightclubs. Along the five-mile-long boulevard, 1910s historic Craftsman homes and bungalows and newly built luxury apartments sit just a stone’s throw from congested pockets of rent-subsidized apartments and ramshackle homes with overgrown lawns. It has been the home of the Avenues gang since the 1950s.

Members sport gang tattoos that include a bullet-pierced skull with a fedora, or the letters LA, AVES, A or Avenidos. When the Mexican Mafia brought drugs into the mix in the 1980s, the Avenues, which started as a club, increased their penchant for violence.

In the early 1990s, the police blamed the Avenues for more than half of the 200-plus homicides in the northeast L.A. neighborhoods of Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park and Eagle Rock. Three-year-old Stephanie Kuhen’s murder by gang members, who fired on her family’s car as her lost stepfather tried to turn around on a dead-end street, intensified police efforts to rid the neighborhood of the 800-member gang.

The Avenues also drew the attention of federal authorities alarmed by the Mexican Mafia’s bid to extend the group’s influence outside of California’s prisons. The first major law-enforcement crackdown came when Avenues boss and Mexican Mafia member Alex “Pee Wee” Aguirre was sentenced to a life term in 1997. It was soon followed by a gang injunction by the City Attorney’s Office and a series of trials that took a handful of Avenues members off the streets.

During the ’90s, more blacks were moving into Highland Park because of the availability of affordable housing.

“They [Avenues members] hated the increase in the black population,” said LAPD Lieutenant Bob Lopez from the witness box. “It was changing the makeup in the neighborhood and they weren’t happy with it.”

At the same time, Avenues gang members were hearing from the Mexican Mafia that they had to take care of the blacks. “They were told to kill any ‘nigger’ on sight and that all blacks had a ‘green light’ on them,” wrote FBI agent Jerry Fradella in a report, after interviewing a former Avenues member in 2005. “Their policy became one that they were to kill any blacks, or to beat their ‘asses’ if they could not kill them at the time. An Avenues member who did not follow this policy would get ‘court checked,’ slang for an ass whipping.”

Meetings to discuss the “infestation” of blacks and how the Avenues had to get rid of them were held, off and on, in a park near a local recreation center, Diaz testified.

“It was a Hispanic neighborhood,” he said. “We didn’t want them making our neighborhood look like South-Central. If you see them, fuck them up. Whatever it would take to get them out of the neighborhood. We wrote ‘fuck niggers’ on the wall around places where black people lived to send a message.”

Lopez said that police began to see an increase in crimes and racial graffiti like “Niggers Go Home” carried out by the Avenues. A handful of black residents and at least one police officer who testified bore the brunt of the gang’s racial hatred, according to federal prosecutors. Celeste Shaffer, a plant manager with the Los Angeles Unified School District, said that she was subjected to racial slurs, chased regularly and told to move out of Highland Park repeatedly in the mid-’90s. She moved out in 1996 because she was fearful “that my sons would be killed by the Avenues.” Dagan Wallace, a retail-theft investigator who lived in Highland Park in 1999, told jurors that he had a gun pointed at his head by Avenues members while he was listening to music in his backyard. On another occasion, he told the court that Avenues members called him “monkey” and warned him not to tag on their walls.

Jimmie Israel, 28, who lived on Avenue 39, testified that the Avenues regularly cut into his walkie-talkie frequency and threatened to burn his house down if he didn’t move out. In 2000, Israel filed a complaint with the police after his sister was beaten up and the Avenues threatened him with a box cutter. LAPD officer Young Honor told jurors one of the suspects called him “nigger” when he investigated the attack.

“It was quite brazen,” he said from the witness box. “We went around the corner to regroup and called for backup. We told him to line up against the fence and told him to face the house and spread his legs. He said, ‘Fuck you, nigger.’ In his body language he challenged me to a fight. His friends were laughing and it was like energy to them. He was like Mr. Big Shot.”

Highland Park also became the playground for a ruthless game in which the Avenues competed against another clique to run as many blacks out of the area as they could, Diaz said.

During this period, Cambero, Martinez, Avila, Saldana and Cazares were members of the Tiny Locos, the youngest clique of the Aves 43. Most of the group were childhood chums. Saldana and Martinez, who wears a tattoo on the back of his head that reads 43 Kills for Thrills, grew up together on the same street. According to Diaz, Martinez called the shots. Cambero was considered the most prolific tagger of the group. Cazares, who lived in Fillmore, hung out in Highland Park on the weekends. Saldana was nicknamed “Lucky” because he constantly outran the police. His former girlfriend testified that he regularly carried a 9 mm in his waistband.

De la Cruz began hanging around the Aves 43 at the end of 1998. They went on missions two or three times a week, he said. Their equipment included scanners and walkie-talkies.

“They [Aves 43] were doing more stuff,” said de la Cruz. “More gangbanging. Instead of hanging out with girls, they were putting in work for the neighborhood.”

Dewayne Williams and his roommates were in the living room of their three-bedroom apartment when they heard the eight shots that broke through the night back in April of 1999. They hit the floor before looking out onto the street. The Cadillac had crashed into a van. The roommates ran down to the street and saw Wilson slumped over the driver’s seat. He was trying to speak.

“It sounded like ‘help me, help me,’” testified a frail and grief-stricken Williams. “I was freaked out. I was running down the street hollering. He took care of his mother in San Bernardino. He was afraid to come to L.A. He was always in San Bernardino. That’s all he knew, was San Bernardino.”

The six Avenues gang members in the van heard the police response to the shots over the scanner. They spoke briefly about their deadly rampage, according to de la Cruz, who testified that Cambero was the first one out of the van, firing his .357. The bullet shattered the pas­­sen­ger window and entered Wilson’s neck. De la Cruz, armed with the shotgun, walked alongside the car while firing into the side and shattering the back window. Saldana shot last, firing his 9 mm twice. According to de la Cruz, Martinez chastised Saldana for “burning” the gun because Wilson was already dead and the police could run ballistic tests on the shell casings. “Lucky said, ‘Fuck it,’” recalled de la Cruz.

Cambero, de la Cruz, Diaz and Saldana were dropped off a few miles from the scene. Cazares and Martinez drove off to dump the van. While they were hiding out, the four gangsters heard gunfire and ran to see what was going on. Martinez and Cazares mistakenly got into a shootout with a group of older Avenues members they believed were from the Dogtown gang. The gangsters spent the next few hours hiding in backyards to dodge the police, according to de la Cruz.

The Avenues might have continued their murder spree unabated, if not for another bloody twist of fate. On February 21, 1999, two months before Wilson’s murder, 21-year-old Jaime Cerda and his brother Rene were shot and killed while they were passengers in a car. White Fence gang member Saul Audelo was later arrested for their murder. Audelo told Hollenbeck Division detectives that he sold the murder weapon, a 9 mm semiautomatic, to Saldana for $250. The detectives searched Saldana’s home on May 9, looking for the gun. No weapon was recovered but Saldana admitted to detectives that he had purchased the gun from Audelo and said he got rid of it before Wilson’s murder. At the time, detectives were merely looking for the Cerda murder weapon and hadn’t connected it to the Wilson murder, which was being handled by Northeast Division detectives. Detectives there didn’t have a break in the case for months, until ballistic testing revealed that the 9 mm bullet casings found at the Wilson crime scene matched those found at Cerda’s murder scene.

Seven months after Saldana was questioned about the gun, in December of 1999, Diaz, who was incarcerated in Wasco State Prison for the attempted murder of an LAPD officer and her three friends, told the detectives about his role in the killing of a black man, Wilson, on Avenue 52. During the interview, Diaz didn’t mention Martinez or Cazares, the driver and one of the lookouts respectively.

Detectives picked up de la Cruz and Saldana two months later, on February 13, 2000. Separately, Saldana and de la Cruz were asked to listen to Diaz’s taped confession. Saldana denied any involvement in the murder. But de la Cruz, who was 18 at the time, folded after he heard the tape and was told by police that Saldana had also confessed. De la Cruz, who was arrested that same day, also didn’t implicate Martinez or Cazares in the crime. Saldana didn’t confess, and he maintained that he wasn’t there. Having failed to recover the gun that would have connected him to the murder, police were forced to release him. (In 2003, however, de la Cruz and Diaz did implicate Martinez and Cazares to the FBI.)

In October of 2000 — more than a year and a half after Wilson’s murder — LAPD officer Fernando Carrasco responded to a 911 call to the Highland Park home of Angel Brown. Brown told the officer that her 28-year-old son Christopher Bowser had been attacked and robbed while he was waiting at a bus stop on Figueroa Street. He had abrasions on the right side of his face. Reluctantly, Bowser told the officer that two Hispanic men beat him up and stole his necklace. He also admitted that he knew one of his attackers to be an Avenues gang member. He refused to press charges, though, explaining that he feared retaliation.

It wasn’t the fist time Bowser had run-ins with the Avenues since he moved into Highland Park with his mother in 1989. He had been regularly chased down the street, threatened and, on at least one occasion, beaten by members of the Aves 43 set, according to Don Petrie, a friend of Bowser’s since elementary school who lived across the street from Bowser and his mother. Petrie said that both he and Bowser regularly escaped beatings, had been shot at, almost run over and had bottles thrown at them by the gang. Petrie said that gang members would drive up and down their block looking for the two.

Petrie admitted on the stand that he was a former member of the Crips gang, but said the attacks had nothing to do with his gang affiliation. “It was a black issue,” he said. “It never was a gang issue. I never had any problem with any Hispanic gangs except the Avenues. When I was active there were Latino gangs in my area and we didn’t have any problems. No rivalry.” A defense attorney rebutted Petrie’s account in his closing argument, saying that the alleged conflicts were indeed gang-related and that Petrie’s testimony was colored by his anger over his friend’s death.

A month after the attack at the bus stop, Bowser filed a complaint when his attacker drove by his house and pointed a gun at him. Martinez, the man Diaz described as the shot caller in the van on the night of Wilson’s murder, and one of the more respected members of the Aves 43, was arrested on December 3, 2000, for the bus-stop robbery of Bowser. Eight days later, Bowser was shot three times in the head at the same bus stop. The father of four died instantly. Police believed that Martinez called the hit on Bowser from jail.

“He walked around our neighborhood like it was his neighborhood,” said Diaz. “Like it was his neighborhood instead of the Avenues neighborhood. It was how he walked. He would walk around with a boom box playing rap music. That doesn’t happen in our neighborhood. Black people walking around like they own the place.”

At the same time, detectives were investigating the murder of another black man that occurred a month earlier. Student and aspiring music producer Anthony Prudhomme, 21, had just moved into a hillside basement apartment in Highland Park. According to police accounts, at around 2 a.m., two men broke into his apartment and shot him twice, using a pillow to muffle the sound. The gunmen escaped in a van as patrol cars pulled up.

Nearly a year later, an informant told police that a fellow gang member from the Avenues said he and another gangster had done the “murder on the hill.” On December 5, 2001, with the aid of the informant’s statement, Avila was arrested for the murder of Prudhomme. Avila was later accused of murdering Bowser, when ballistics evidence found that the same gun was used in both Prudhomme’s and Bowser’s murders. Avila was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for the two murders. His accomplice was never charged.

In federal court last week, prosecutors aired a jailhouse phone call between Avila and another Avenues member shortly after Bowser’s murder, in which Avila boasted that he and other Avenues members, including Martinez, had been “fucking up” Bowser for weeks. “Yeah,” he said. “That fool is fucking gone, eh.”

Martinez’s attorney, Sonia Chahin, said that portion of the recording was taken out of context. “This case is about that all Avenues have a policy of running black people out of the neighborhood. It is simply not the case.”

http://www.laweekly.com/news/news/they- ... out/14109/

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Jurors Begin Deliberations in Civil Rights Case

Unread post by Christina Marie » July 28th, 2006, 12:55 am

Jurors Begin Deliberations in Civil Rights Case Against L.A.-Area Gang

By Joe Mozingo, Times Staff Writer

July 28, 2006

Jurors in the federal hate crime case against five members of a Highland Park gang Thursday began deliberating a question that could have implications for race relations in Los Angeles: Did a Latino street gang launch a campaign of violence to remove black people from their neighborhoods?

Defense attorneys claimed that police had concocted the conspiracy by tying together random attacks committed largely by unknown perpetrators — thus inflating common street crime into a conspiracy against civil rights.

"This indictment was meant to grab headlines," said Manuel Araujo, representing Gilbert "Lucky" Saldana. "It was based on a fiction."

Araujo said the foundation of the case was "two rotten logs" — a pair of imprisoned gang members who would say anything to reduce their sentences.

"My client is no angel," Araujo said. "He is a gang member. He has been tagging. But the evidence is clear he is not guilty of the charges in the indictment."

Saldana is accused of murdering a black man who was parking his car one night in 1999. The two witnesses at issue — Jesse Diaz and Jose de la Cruz — testified that they were with Saldana and three other Avenues gang members when they came upon the man and decided to kill him.

Araujo argued Wednesday that his client was not there, nor were the witnesses. De la Cruz, who was convicted in state court for the murder, was coerced into confessing by police and, once in prison, grew desperate to get his sentence reduced, Araujo said.

Araujo pointed out inconsistencies between the witnesses' testimonies and between the stories they gave to a federal grand jury and their tales at trial. He argued that the physical evidence did not support the details they gave of the killing.

Araujo called a Los Angeles police lieutenant a liar after the officer testified that he saw gang graffiti that included racial epithets, and questioned why officers never photographed any of it. Sonia Chahin, defense attorney for Alejandro "Bird" Martinez, questioned why the prosecution did not call forward more victims who could specifically identify the defendants as their attackers.

"This conspiracy supposedly lasted for six years," she said. "Why don't we have people coming in and saying, 'That guy, right there, he's the one who called me the N-word.' "

The prosecution came back swinging Thursday morning, reminding jurors of various witnesses who took the stand to tell unsettling stories of being attacked, called racial epithets and told to leave Highland Park.

The indictment lists nearly two dozen incidents, including three murders, numerous beatings and verbal assaults between 1995 and 2000. On trial with Saldana and Martinez are Porfirio "Dreamer" Avila and Fernando "Sneaky" Cazares. Another defendant, Merced "Shadow" Cambero, is a fugitive.

For a guilty verdict, the jurors must find that the attacks were part of a conspiracy to violate the victims' right to live where they please and to use state-administered "facilities" — in this case, the street.

In court motions, prosecutors argued that the Mexican Mafia, a race-based prison gang, ordered the Avenues to get blacks out of the neighborhood. But U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson barred such testimony as prejudicial.

In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Atty. Alex Bustamante stood by his two key witnesses: the Avenues members who turned on their cohorts.

"These gang members only tell their homeboys what they're doing," he said. "Swans don't swim in the gutter. The inside view comes from homeboys, not choirboys."

He said their testimony changed over time because they first tried to protect their friends.

Bustamante also replayed a key piece of evidence: a telephone conversation between one of the defendants, Avila, and a gang member named Dusty Chavez that was recorded in County Jail. The conversation took place shortly after the December 2000 killing of a black man named Christopher Bowser.

On the tape, they talk about how Martinez robbed Bowser a week before. Twice Avila says they were messing up "some mayates," a Spanish-language slur against blacks. He then tells Chavez that Martinez was arrested after Bowser went to police.

Prosecutors argue that what Avila says next referred to Bowser.

"That fool is gone," Avila says.

http://ktla.trb.com/news/local/la-me-av ... ewslocal-1

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Unread post by streetsIswatchin » July 29th, 2006, 4:47 am

Thats messed up, R.i.p. Christopher Bowser. He should have left that area.

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Four SoCal gang members convicted of hate crimes

Unread post by Christina Marie » August 1st, 2006, 7:29 pm

Four SoCal gang members convicted of hate crimes
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Four members of a Hispanic gang were convicted Tuesday of conspiring to use violence, including murder, to push blacks out of their neighborhood in what prosecutors called one of the first high-profile federal prosecutions of a street gang as a hate group.

All four were found to have caused the death of a black man who was shot while parking his car in 1999 and a man who was shot while standing at a bus stop in 2000 in the largely Hispanic city of Highland Park, just east of Los Angeles.

The four face life in prison without parole. Sentencing begins Oct. 23.

For a guilty verdict, jurors had to find that the attacks were part of a conspiracy to violate the victims' right to live where they please and to use state-administered facilities, including public streets.

Authorities said it was one of the first prominent cases in which the U.S. Justice Department targeted a street gang with laws normally used to prosecute white supremacist groups such as skinhead organizations and the Ku Klux Klan.

During closing arguments last week, Justice Department attorney Bobbi Bernstein asked the jury to convict the four to send a message that America does not tolerate racial violence.

"In America, these people don't get to beat people down or kill them because they don't want to see black skin in their neighborhood," Bernstein said. "Tell them that they did not own these streets, and they did not own that neighborhood."

Defense attorneys claimed police concocted the conspiracy charges by tying together random attacks committed largely by unknown perpetrators. They also questioned the credibility of two former members of the Avenues gang who became government witnesses.

Convicted were Gilbert "Lucky" Saldana, 27; Alejandro "Bird" Martinez, 28; Porfirio "Dreamer" Avila, 31; and Fernando "Sneaky" Cazares, 26.

Two of the defendants - Saldana and Avila - are already serving life sentences in state prison.

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercuryn ... 174931.htm

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LA Weekly/Avenues Gang Members Meet the End of the Road

Unread post by Christina Marie » August 2nd, 2006, 7:59 pm

Avenues Gang Members Meet the End of the Road
But is Highland Park safe for blacks?

Wednesday, August 2, 2006 - 6:00 pm

Althought members of a Latino street gang were convicted in federal court last Tuesday of committing a string of deadly hate crimes intended to drive blacks out of Highland Park, the predominantly Latino neighborhood just north of downtown is far from free of gang-fueled strife. Even as the trial was unfolding, another young man was shot at a party during a confrontation between gang members and a black youth.

The convictions of Gilbert “Lucky” Saldana, 27, Alejandro “Bird” Martinez, 29, Fernando “Sneaky” Cazares, 26, and Porfirio “Dreamer” Avila, 31 — all members of the Avenues gang clique known as the Aves 43 — marked the first use of a federal hate-crime statute against a street gang by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Sentencing for Cazares, Martinez and Saldana is scheduled for October 23. Avila is scheduled to be sentenced on November 20. The four are likely facing life sentences.

During the four-week trial in federal court in downtown Los Angeles, prosecutors painted a grim picture of Aves 43 gang members who, during a six-year campaign between 1995 and 2001, threatened, intimidated and beat African-Americans who dared to make Highland Park their home, and ultimately killed three black residents. Kenneth Kurry Wilson, 38, was shot to death by a van full of Avenues gang members in the early hours of Sunday morning on April 18, 1999, as he was attempting to park a Cadillac on Avenue 52, a tree-lined street just a short jog from Figueroa Street. The following year, Christopher Bowser, 28, was shot three times in the head while he was waiting at a bus stop. Bowser, who had lived in Highland Park with his mother since 1989, had been regularly chased down the street, threatened and, just eight days before his death, was beaten by the Aves 43 set. A third victim, 21-year-old Anthony Prudhomme, an aspiring music producer, was attacked in his bed and shot twice in the head.

The federal jury deliberated just over two days before finding Saldana, Martinez, Cazares and Avila guilty of conspiring to interfere with the housing rights of black residents through threats and violence. Cazares, Martinez and Saldana were also found guilty of violating a federal hate-crime statute, which is based on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing slavery, by killing Wilson because of his race and while he was using a public street. They were also found guilty of using a firearm. A fifth defendant, Merced Cambero, 27, who is alleged to have fired the shot that killed Wilson, is currently a fugitive and remains under indictment.

Prosecutors largely based their case on the testimony of two former Avenues gang members, Jose de la Cruz and Jesse Diaz, who claimed to be in the van on the night of Wilson’s murder along with the defendants. De la Cruz is currently serving a 45-year sentence in state prison for his role in Wilson’s slaying. Diaz is serving a 20-year sentence for the attempted murder of a police officer. Both men agreed to testify against their childhood chums in hopes of getting time knocked off their sentences.

The two former gangsters told the 12 jurors in shocking detail about meetings held at a neighborhood park to discuss the “infestation” of blacks in Highland Park, and random attacks, such as the beating of a homeless man who was seen walking with a Latino woman, an assault on a group of men playing basketball in Montecito Park, racial slurs directed at a mother and her daughter in a supermarket, and the beating of a black man who stopped to use a pay phone on the street.

During the trial, defense lawyers relentlessly questioned the credibility of Diaz and de la Cruz as well as the testimony of two law-enforcement officials. The defense also argued that the hate-crime statute was “unconstitutional” and that it was specifically designed to target not street crimes, but the bigotry that interfered with civil rights historically denied blacks in the Southern states.

Friends and family members of the victims voiced relief at the verdicts, saying that they wanted Highland Park to be a place where African-Americans can live in peace.

“My kids might have to move out there one day, and I hope it changes by then,” said Don Petrie, an elementary school friend and neighbor of Bowser’s who said that he and Bowser regularly escaped beatings, and had been shot at by the gang. “It sends a message that you don’t judge people by the color of their skin. They let me know every other day that they didn’t want me in the neighborhood.”

Tuesday’s conviction by no means signals an end to the violence in Highland Park. On July 22, when the federal hate-crime trial was already under way, a 17-year-old graduate of Lincoln High School was shot to death after attending a party on Avenue 40 — Aves 43 gang territory. Police are trying to determine whether members of the Aves 43 were involved in the slaying, which followed a confrontation between gang members and an African-American teen during a party of 100 or so mostly high school students. According to law-enforcement sources, gang members confronted the African-American teen, who was singing, and told him to “shut the fuck up.”

The victim in the shooting, Zelvin Reyes, 17, who is Latino, was leaving the party when a second confrontation occurred between gang members and the African-American teen and other partygoers. One of the gang members pulled out a gun. Multiple shots were fired. Investigators said this week that they do not know whether race was a factor in the confrontation that led up to the killing. The night of violence left one teen dead and a second teenager wounded. No one has been arrested in connection with the slaying.

One law-enforcement source, who asked for anonymity because of a prohibition on speaking to the media, said he fears that the conviction will lead the public to wrongly conclude that racial harassment no longer occurs in Highland Park. After reviewing the details of the July 22 shooting, the source voiced fears that the Avenues “have done it again.”

“There is still a number of Avenues that need to be removed from the area so everyone in the area of every color can be safe,” the law-enforcement official said.

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