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Undercover Operation Targets Montebello Gang, Murder Suspects Arrested In Raid

A two-year investigation that involved infiltrating the Southside Montebello gang, came to an end Wednesday morning with a pre-dawn raid that led to 10 arrests in criminal cases filed by state and federal prosecutors, including a federal racketeering indictment and charges related to six unsolved murders, authorities said.

Special agent Susan Raichel of the ATF department displays the weapons that are illegal and altered by some of the local South Montebello gangs. (EGP photo by Fred Zermona)

Those arrested were named in federal indictments and in criminal charges that were filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. A total of 38 gang members and their associates have been charged in the multi-agency investigation dubbed “Operation Sudden Impact,” and conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Montebello Police and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s departments, and the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation’s Special Services Unit.

“The partnership by all these agencies shows the support the city has had to bring these violent acts to justice,” Montebello Mayor Christina Cortez told EGP. “I’m very proud of the role that the Montebello Police Department undertook and the partnership that was created.”

The investigation started with “cold case” murders that led detectives to the Southside Montebello gang and their local rivals.

Ultimately, six murder cases were resolved, including one in which a gang member was charged with fatally shooting a man and his 12-year-old son in June of 2008 at a party where a fight broke out between members of his gang and Southside Montebello.

Law enforcement officers and informants infiltrated Southside Montebello and gathered evidence of alleged crimes, including murders and methamphetamine distribution.

About a pound of methamphetamine was seized, along with a number of weapons.

The ten individuals arrested Wednesday also face charges filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

“Today’s arrests are the result of really good police work and collaboration among federal, state and local agencies,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey Attorney said in a statement. “But more importantly they represent a win for the residents of the City of Montebello and adjacent communities who have been terrorized by escalating gang violence.”

The district attorney has also filed charges against 14 defendants for narcotic sales, sales of assault weapons and felony possession of a gun. Federal prosecutors have charged 18 defendants with violating the RICO act and federal narcotic and weapon offenses.

According to the RICO indictment, the Southside Montebello gang had established a “Killer Squad” unit to compete with rival gangs.

“The federal racketeering indictment describes how the gang maintained an arsenal of weapons, engaged in violent acts, and operated a robust drug trade that frightened and intimidated the people of Montebello,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr.

Jimmy Valenzuela, 27, who was a founding member of the “Killer Squad,” is accused of “execution-style” slayings of two rival gang members that took place in 2007 and 2010. If convicted, he faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors also allege that two Montebello gang members sold drugs and full-automatic firearms to an undercover operative, which led to the seizure of a non-operational, rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

“During Operation Sudden Impact, ATF and the Montebello Police department took approximately 40 violent criminal street gang members off the street, along with 20 illegal firearms that will no longer be a threat to the community,” said ATF special agent Steven J. Bogdalek.

Suspects arrested on Wednesday:

– Tirzo Cangas, 26, Edgar Solorzano, 32, Oscar Garcia, 35, and Michael Candelaria, 23, all of Montebello. They were among 14 defendants charged by the

District Attorney’s office with drug and weapons violations. Three people charged in state court are being sought. Seven others were locked up already.

– Samuel Lopez, 28, of Diamond Bar; Joseph Elizarraras, 33, of Pico Rivera; Jolene Montoya, 24, Carlos Hernandez, 47, and Armando Alvarado, 59, all of Montebello; and Davit Babayan, 26, of Whittier were named in a federal racketeering indictment. Three other people named in the indictment are being sought. Four others were in custody already.

Among the six “cold case” murders solved during Operation Sudden Impact were the June, 2008, fatal shootings of Albert Garcia and his 12-year-old son Juan.

Joe John Dorantes, 27, has been charged with two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder in connection with the attack, and he is scheduled to appear in Los Angeles County Superior Court on May 22 for a preliminary hearing setting

Montebello Police Chief Kevin L McClure said the investigation would not have been possible without the various agencies involved.

“These arrests will make a significant impact on a Montebello street gang that has not only terrorized the City of Montebello, but also the surrounding communities.”