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Dozens of people were arrested during raids targeting two violent street gangs that operate in eastern San Fernando Valley and South Los Angeles.

People arrested during a gang raid in the San Fernando Valley are shown on Feb. 13, 2019. (Credit: KTLA)
People arrested during a gang raid in the San Fernando Valley are shown on Feb. 13, 2019. (Credit: KTLA)

Federal officials announced indictments against members and associates of the Vineland Boys and Florencia-13 on Wednesday during a news conference. The raids were conducted during the early morning hours by FBI agents and Los Angeles Police Department officers.

During “Operation Sunset” on Wednesday, 27 members and associates of the Vineland Boys were arrested. Eleven people listed in the indictments were already in custody while seven remain at large, The defendants are accused of tying to control territories in Sun Valley, North Hollywood and Burbank by shooting and assaulting rival gang members, participating in drug and firearms trafficking and extorting money from drug dealers. The five indictments detail violent incidents involving the gang, including an April 2016 shooting of a rival gang member.

Members of the gang are accused of being involved in illegal firearms sales. One defendant, who is not a member of the gang, allegedly manufactured “ghost guns,” AR-15 style weapons that have no serial numbers and are untraceable.

The Vineland Boys has a “long and well-documented history of violence” in the San Fernando Valley and has about 500 members, FBI Assistant Director in Charge Paul Delacourt noted. They work with the Mexican Mafia, a prominent prison gang with ties to L.A., but also operate independently. The gang had eased their grip on the San Fernando Valley following the fatal shooting of two Burbank police officers about 15 years ago, but that changed over recent years , U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said during the news conference.

“A new generation emerged and once, again they’re plaguing their communities with violence, with drug trafficking, with extortion and other crimes,” Hanna said. “They’ve been emboldened and regained their swagger. But that ends today.”

The raids Wednesday were the result of a three-and-a-half year investigation into the gang, officials said.

During their investigation of the Vineland Boys, authorities seized 57, ounces of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, 140 marijuana plants and $50,000 in cash, officials said.

“Undoubtably, this sweep is going to have a major impact to the Vineland Boys street gang, and its impact will bring safety back to the San Fernando Valley,” LAPD Deputy Chief Kris Pitcher said during the news conference.  “This is an absolute success today.”

In addition, 11 members and associates of the Florencia-13 gang were arrested Wednesday during “Operation Friday the 13th.” They face federal racketeering, narcotics and firearms charges, officials said. One of the indictments alleges the gang attempted to smuggle narcotics into the California state prison and Los Angeles County jail systems, including trying to mail two shipments of heroin to a Mexican Mafia member.

Leonel Laredo, a.k.a. “Wizard,” 47, is listed as the main defendant in one of the federal indictments and is currently in prison in Texas for previous racketeering and drug convictions. He allegedly directed Florencia-13’s dealings in the unincorporated Florence-Firestone neighborhood of South Los Angeles, as well as parts of Lynwood, Maywood and Bell, officials allege.  Laredo is one of four members of the Mexican Mafia who officials believe had leadership roles in Florencia-13 and he allegedly extorted “taxes” from drug dealers and businesses in the gang’s territory.

The indictment also alleges that Florencia-13 members attempted to kill a rival gang member in South L.A. in Dec. 2016. In a April 2017 incident, one of the defendants, Samuel Flores Mejia, aka, “Menace” allegedly shot and injured a fellow Florencia-13 member to discipline him at one of the gang’s illegal gambling houses, known as “casitas.”

The indictments also detail instances of drug and firearms trafficking.

Delacourt explained that Florencia-13 includes members of the Mexican Mafia and the gang has grown in influence by adopting smaller, less powerful gangs. Known members and associates of the gang number in the thousands and the organization reaches from street dealers to shot callers operating from prison, Delacourt said. They have influence in Huntington Park, Vernon, Bell and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.

“Today is a new day for the community,” LAPD Capt. Michael Rimkunas of the Newton division said during the news conference.