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Man Held for Refusing to Testify in Gang Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A reputed street gang member was held in contempt of court and jailed Thursday after he refused to testify in the Los Angeles federal trial of 13 alleged members and associates of the Mexican Mafia prison gang about a dispute he apparently had with several of the defendants.

Despite a promise of immunity for his testimony, Conrad Morales, a suspected member of the Hazard street gang in Boyle Heights, refused to testify. U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew ordered Morales into custody until he agrees to give testimony.

But few observers who are knowledgeable about the federal case alleging racketeering and conspiracy charges against la Eme--as the Mafia is commonly called--believe that Morales will agree to testify.

“He’d be signing his own death warrant if he did,” one source said.

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Federal prosecutors say la Eme’s influence among local street gangs is reinforced by the ruthless violence and intimidation against those who oppose the prison gang. The case alleges that the Mexican Mafia ordered the murders of seven people and tried to kill several more.

Morales was called to the witness stand to talk about the organization “taxing” Hazard gang members who sold drugs in and around the Ramona Gardens public housing project. The organization considered Ramona Gardens part of its territory and demanded payment for illicit drug sales there.

Investigators say Morales was one of several Hazard members who refused to pay the Mafia and was marked for death, reportedly by reputed member and defendant David “Smilon” Gallardo. At one point during the dispute in 1993, prosecutors say, Gallardo said that Morales shouldn’t “get away with living another New Year’s [celebration].”

But prosecutors didn’t get very far with Morales when he was called to the witness stand outside the presence of the jury.

“Are you familiar with the Ramona Gardens housing project?” Assistant U.S. Atty. Lisa Lench asked Morales.

“I refuse to testify,” he replied.

The judge stepped in and asked Morales, who was accompanied by attorney Edward Robinson, if he intended to answer any questions put to him.

“I refuse to testify,” he said.

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Hearing that statement, Lew ordered that Morales be taken into custody.

Lench said Morales was already in custody waiting for prosecutors to call him as a witness in the complex case against the organization. Now, she said, he will remain in custody.

Morales was the second reputed Hazard gang member in a week to be called as a witness to talk about the dispute between the organization and the street gang.

Last Friday, suspected Hazard member Humberto “Capone” Madrigal said he didn’t see the gunman who shot him 14 times Jan. 13, 1994, and denied that he had named Gallardo as his assailant.

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Madrigal testified that he even appeared at a parole revocation hearing for Gallardo, denying that he shot him.

Federal prosecutors say that Madrigal identified Gallardo as the gunman in an interview with Los Angeles Police Det. Laurance Martinez, who testified that Madrigal picked Gallardo out of a photo lineup as the gunman.

However, Madrigal testified that he merely “glanced” at the photos and did not pick out Gallardo.

In a strange twist during his court appearance, Madrigal described Gallardo as a friend. But when asked if Gallardo was present in court, Madrigal looked over at the three-tier set of desks where the defendants were seated and said that Gallardo was not there.

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In fact, Gallardo was seated at the top tier, next to his attorney.


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