The man who allegedly oversaw drug-dealing and other activities of the largest "clique" of the 18th Street Gang was among 12 people arrested on charges that include the
distribution of crack cocaine.
Sergio Pantoja, 31 - who is known on the street as "Tricky" - is the lead defendant in an eight-count indictment returned last week by a federal grand jury. Pantoja and his wife, Ingrid Veronica Flores Tercero, 34, were arrested by a task force made up of special agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and officers with the Los Angeles Police Department.
The indictment discusses Pantoja's role as a "shot caller" of the Columbia Lil Cycos (CLCS). This clique of the 18th Street Gang allegedly used violence and intimidation to control narcotics distribution in an area adjoining MacArthur Park in the Westlake District of Los Angeles.
Under Pantoja's direction, the indictment states, narcotics wholesale suppliers and street dealers paid "rent" â€“ typically a percentage of proceeds from the sale of narcotics â€“ in exchange for permission from the CLCS to sell narcotics in the gang's territory. Those who paid rent received the exclusive authorization to sell narcotics in CLCS territory as well as protection from rivals, according to the indictment.
"A new generation of gang members has risen to fill the power vacuum created after we successfully prosecuted the prior leadership of the CLCS," said United States Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien.
"Today, we have again cut off the head of this organization and dismantled its narcotics distribution operations. Should CLCS seek to rise again, we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to protect our community," he said.
The indictment alleges that Pantoja conducted much of the gang's business out of a tattoo shop that he owned on West Sixth Street. This morning, the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office filed an abatement seeking to shut down operations at this business.
One of the federal indictments unsealed this morning charges 18 defendants, four of whom were already in custody and two of whom have not yet been identified, except for their street monikers. Six other indictments, charging narcotics distribution, firearms trafficking, illegal firearm possession and immigration violations, were unsealed today against an additional six members and associates of the 18th Street Gang.
An additional defendant was arrested on state narcotics charges. In total, a dozen people were arrested today, five were already in custody on other charges and eight are fugitives.
All of the defendants in the primary indictment are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, distribute, and aid and abet the distribution of crack cocaine. Pantoja and Tercero, who are additionally charged in six substantive counts involving the distribution of crack cocaine, face potential life sentences if convicted.
"Today's operation is a significant step towards liberating the residents of the Westlake district from the fear imposed by members of the 18th street gang, said Herbert Brown, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Criminal Division in Los Angeles.
"We're hopeful today's enforcement actions encourage members of the public to come forward and report crime in neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles, and that citizens understand they do not have to live in fear, that the 18th street gang does not control the area in which they live, and that together we can prevail," he stated.
According to City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, whose prosecutors filed an action to enjoin the further use of the CLCS clique's headquarters: "Today's coordinated sweep against the 18th Street Gang demonstrates the continuing partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement. Together, we aim to put the 18th Street Gang out of business for good. My office will use every tool at its disposal to put an end to this criminal enterprise."
During the course of the investigation and the execution of today's arrests, the FBI and the LAPD received substantial assistance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Long Beach Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and a staff writer for the New Media Alliance