In a 10-count indictment unsealed last week, members of the Big Hazard street gang are accused of violating the civil rights of black families and engaging in a racketeering enterprise.
The alleged fire-bombings of four residential units on May 12, 2014, was intended to drive black people from the Ramona Gardens Housing Development (RGHD), a federally and city-funded housing development in Boyle Heights occupied primarily by Hispanic residents, the 25-page indictment alleges.
“The defendants used firebombs to drive the victims from their homes because of their race,” said Vanita Gupta, deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“This is a hate crime,” Gupta said. “Such violence and intimidation have no place in our society.”
The grand jury indictment, returned after a two-year federal investigation, alleges the defendants conspired to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate black residents in violation of their constitutional rights, including the right to “occupy a dwelling free from injury, intimidation and interference based on race and color.”
Named defendants are: Carlos “Creeper” Hernandez, 31; Jose “Lil’ Moe” Saucedo, 22; Francisco “Bones” Farias, 25; Joseue “Malo” Garibay, 23; Edwin “Boogie” Felix, 23; Jonathan “Pelon” Portillo, 21; and Joel Matthew “Gallo” Monarrez, 21, all of Los Angeles.
Each is charged with conspiracy to violate civil rights, as well as: conspiracy to use fire and carry explosives to commit another federal felony; attempted arson of federal property; using fire and carrying explosives to commit another federal felony; aiding and abetting; violent crime in aid of racketeering and interference with housing rights. Additionally, Hernandez and Farias also were charged with possessing firearms during a crime of violence. Felix also was charged with lying to FBI agents.
The indictment says the defendants are members of Big Hazard, “a multi-generational gang” that originated in the early 1940s, taking its name from Hazard Park, and eventually claiming territory in East Los Angeles.
“Hazard is part of a network of Latino gangs in the greater Los Angeles area controlled by senior gang members who are also members and associates of an organization known as the ‘Mexican Mafia’ or ‘La Eme,’” the indictment said.
The Justice Department estimates the gang to have about 350 members.
To identify territory controlled by Big Hazard, and to instill fear in black people and others residents, gang members would spray paint or “tag” their gang monikers and symbols on businesses, residences and property in Ramona Gardens, the indictment says.
Members of the Hazard gang also would confront black residents, including mixed-race children, “and individually and collectively threaten them by telling them that they were not welcome in Hazard gang territory, namely, Ramona Gardens, and that they risked harm if they remained as residents,” the indictment says.
In May 2014, Hernandez is accused of calling a meeting where he told his fellow gang members the group was going to use “Molotov cocktails” to firebomb residential units occupied by black families, including children, the indictment says.
Hernandez told the gang members that the firebombs were intended to “get the niggers out of the neighborhood,” or words to that effect, the indictment says.
On May 11, 2014, Hernandez gave instructions to gang members on how to split into two teams and carry out the fire-bombings. Gang members were each given assignments to break windows of the residences to allow the firebombs to make clean entries, as well as igniting the firebombs and throwing them through the broken windows in order to maximize damage.
The indictment says conspirators “deliberately left behind their cellular telephones prior to engaging in the firebombing in order to thwart law enforcement’s ability to track their movements through their cellular telephones.
“This crime was particularly heinous because they attacked people’s homes, where children were sleeping,” Eileen Decker, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, told the Los Angeles Times. “The fact that children were endangered made this a particularly disturbing type of crime.”