Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2008
A first-of-a-kind lawsuit filed Monday by the Los Angeles city attorney seeks cash damages against leaders of a notorious gang and proposes to distribute their criminal assets among residents of crime-plagued neighborhoods.
The lawsuit targets nine imprisoned leaders of the 18th Street gang, including two leaders of the Mexican Mafia, and demands civil damages on behalf of residents of two city neighborhoods. If successful, the suit would distribute proceeds from seized homes, businesses and other assets to neighborhood residents who cannot file suit themselves because they fear retaliation, prosecutors say.
Delgadillo [City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo] said the action is necessary because the gang leaders, even though they are in prison, collect profits from illegal “street taxes” imposed on residents of the Pico-Union and Westlake areas, where drug dealers, store owners and even ice cream vendors must pay protection.
The suit seeks compensation for all property damage, property devaluation, emotional distress, personal injury, medical expenses and time in which residents could not use public parks because of gang activity.
The nine leaders of the 18th Street gang named in the suit are: Sergio “Tricky” Pantoja, Frank “Puppet” Martinez, Araceli “Traviesa” Bravo, Michael “Mousie” Pineda, Jose Juan “Wicked” Alvarez, Noe “Lil Duster” Chavez, Efrain “Dandy Boy” Ruiz Torres, Jose “Toro” Morales Perez and Ruben “Nite Owl” Castro.
State officials have frozen prison accounts of some Pelican Bay State Prison inmates with large sums on the books.
The gang extorts as much as 30% of the take from some businesses in and around MacArthur Park, Riordan said. A baby was killed last year in that area when, prosecutors said, gang members were threatening a business owner.
City prosecutors can bring the suit thanks to a newly enacted state law, which allows them to act on behalf of members of the neighborhoods affected by gang activity and collect monetary damages awarded in specific civil actions. The law allows such actions in areas with gang injunctions. The 18th Street gang is already the subject of five gang injunctions by city prosecutors.