Separate Raids Smash ‘Mid-Level’ Local Cocaine Ring
Though overshadowed by the 20-ton cocaine seizure in Sylmar, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI also broke up what they described as a major local narcotics network Friday, arresting 20 people in early morning raids, including the two alleged ringleaders, who live in Orange.
Brothers Rick and Jerry Dean Cunningham were named in a federal complaint as the leaders of the drug operation. Assistant U.S. Atty. John S. Gordon, chief of the Los Angeles Gang Drug Task Force, said $35,000 was found in a safe in Rick Cunningham’s home at 4401 Kirkwood Ave.
Rick Cunningham’s wife, Robbin Mozee, was also arrested.
Police seized drugs, cash, cars and a home allegedly belonging to the drug ring during the morning raids.
Authorities said the ring was headquartered at a carpet-cleaning business in Gardena and was an important supplier of cocaine to street gangs in South-Central Los Angeles. The ring sold drugs as far away as Oklahoma and even operated its own rock houses, officials said.
“This is significant because whenever we take out a whole organization from top to bottom, it disrupts people on both ends--the buyers and the suppliers,” said Gordon.
Eighteen defendants were arrested on a federal complaint accusing them of conspiring to distribute from 10 to 30 kilograms of rock and powder cocaine a week, and two others, who were not named in the complaint, were arrested during the early morning raid. The federal grand jury in Los Angeles is expected to issue indictments within 10 days, Gordon said.
At a press conference, Sheriff Sherman Block and FBI Agent-in-Charge Lawrence Lawler declared the arrests made under the joint operation--called “Urban Siege"-- were very important even though only small amounts of cocaine and just $180,000 in cash were seized.
“Rather than a large seizure of drugs, we targeted the organization,” Lawler said. “And with 20 arrests and (records) the federal government has seized . . . we hope that will lead us to the suppliers.”
The distribution network was considered a “mid-level supplier” of cocaine, authorities said. A task force of 12 Carson station deputies and six FBI agents infiltrated the network, buying as much as one kilo of cocaine on several occasions and arranging a seven-kilo purchase this month, the complaint said. Investigators have also gathered evidence through wiretaps for the last three months, Gordon said.
None of the four narcotics investigative teams that once handled major drug cases for the Sheriff’s Department were involved in the raids. Those teams were disbanded two weeks ago after the members of one of the squads were suspended for allegedly skimming money seized during drug raids.
Block said none of the squads worked on this case because it involved a special, anti-gang task force.
“We believe we accomplished what we set out to do,” Block said, “to get the mid-level dealers who are supplying the street dealers in gang-infested areas.” Block added that while the 20 suspects may not be gang members, “they are part of the alliances that exist, (so) indi rectly you can say they were gang members.”
Agents ended their 10-month investigation of the ring by raiding homes in Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Los Angeles, Downey, Sherman Oaks and the city of Orange about 6 a.m., according to the federal complaint.
About 25 pistols, sawed-off shot guns and assault rifles were confiscated. Seizure warrants were also issued for 15 vehicles and a rock house in Gardena that along with the carpet-cleaning business was considered a prime drug distribution center.
Suspects named by the task force included Al Beckley of Hawthorne; Valda Tedford Chavez of Los Angeles; Karen Cunningham of Torrance; Mark Guss of Hawthorne; Mary Monroe of Downey; Stacy and Tracy Nance of Inglewood; Larry Johnson of Los Angeles; Don Emanuel Nelson of Los Angeles; Ticia Chalon Stanford of Inglewood; Derrlyn Williams of Los Angeles; Raymond Roe of Downey; Raymond Benny Williams of Hawthorne; Sharon Diane Williams of Los Angeles; Jeffrey Van Young of Los Angeles; Kevin Michael Wright of Sherman Oaks, and Edward Robinson Yates of Los Angeles.