33 Seized in Drug Sweep; Two Flee Jail

Times Staff Writer

The FBI and Los Angeles police Monday announced the arrest of 33 suspects in their first joint operation to crack down on drug trafficking by Los Angeles gangs.

Two of the suspects, however, escaped from jail during the weekend. Police Chief Daryl F. Gates described the men as dangerous “hard-core career criminals.”

The arrests came during two raids last week in South-Central Los Angeles.

Lawrence Lawler, special agent in charge of the FBI for Los Angeles, said his agency and the police decided six months ago to unite against Los Angeles gangs because they were exporting crime--especially drugs--to other cities.


“When we saw it start to spread across the country . . . then it becomes a national problem,” Lawler said. “This is just the beginning of a long series of investigations and arrests that we hope will have a great impact.”

Nine of those arrested are being held on federal drug charges. However, none is being specifically connected to an interstate drug operation.

And Lawler acknowledged that the amount of drugs seized--about two pounds of rock cocaine-- was small. But he said several of the people arrested were “above street level” and played a significant role in the drug trade.

By holding the nine suspects on federal charges, they face longer, mandatory prison

Weapons, Drugs Shown

Gates, Lawler and other officials announced the arrests at a news conference at police headquarters. Police displayed the guns and cocaine that agents recovered in the raids.

Sgt. J.J. May, who made several of the arrests, told about paging one suspect on a beeper to persuade him to turn himself in. At another location, May said, as he approached to make the arrest he could hear the gang suspects listening to a police scanner transmitting the raiding agents’ conversations.

Officials had planned the press conference, however, before they knew of the escapes.

The two men who fled were identified as Buford Bates, 24, and Eric Wright, 18. They were arrested along with 11 other suspects Friday during simultaneous raids by the FBI, anti-gang police detectives and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Seventeen guns were seized and the 11 suspects were booked on charges including perjury, weapons possession and parole violations.

Bates and Wright are suspected of stealing 11 guns, including a MAC-11 assault weapon, from a man they allegedly kidnaped on Jan. 30. They were booked on kidnaping and robbery charges Friday but disappeared from the 77th Street Station during the weekend.

Gates blamed the escape on overcrowding. The jail, he said, is so crowded that inmates are fed in the hallways; it has room for 15 people but housed 45 felons over the weekend.

But he admitted that the escape is embarrassing and that it is under investigation. Bates and Wright were discovered missing Monday morning as police prepared for the press conference.

Offers No Excuse

“There is no excuse for losing prisoners of this magnitude,” he said. “These are people who need to go to jail for a long time.”

In the other raid, 20 people were arrested on Wednesday when federal and local agents converged on 11 locations in a 10-block area of South-Central Los Angeles, Gates said.

Nine were held on federal counts of selling narcotics and transferred to federal custody. The 11 others were booked on drug and misdemeanor charges.

Two pounds of rock cocaine and three guns were also confiscated.

Most of the people arrested belong to the 46th Street Hustlers, a subset of the Crips gang, police said.