Four alleged members of a Latino street gang that waged a campaign of terror against African Americans in Highland Park have been indicted on federal weapons and civil rights charges, including the racially motivated slaying of a black motorist, the U.S. attorney’s office announced Friday.
Prosecutors said the four, who could face the death penalty if convicted, are members of a clique of the Avenues street gang, which has been a fixture on the Eastside of Los Angeles for 50 years.
Two years ago, the city attorney’s office obtained an injunction barring gang members from congregating in a 9.7-square-mile area that includes Highland Park. But a Los Angeles police detective who has tracked them said Friday they are still a potent force.
All four defendants are accused of taking part in the killing of Kenneth Kurry Wilson, 38, a black man who was gunned down April 18, 1999, while parking his car on a street claimed by the gang.
According to the indictment, the Avenues gang members spotted Wilson as they drove by in a stolen van. Three of them allegedly piled out of the vehicle and rushed Wilson, mortally wounding him with a barrage of bullets fired from a shotgun and two pistols.
Those indicted were Gilbert Saldana, 26, one of the alleged triggermen, who is serving a life sentence in state prison for another murder; Merced Cambero, also 26, the second alleged gunman, who is still being sought; and two men accused of acting as lookouts: Alejandro Martinez, 27, and Fernando Cazares, 24. Martinez was arrested by SWAT team officers Friday morning. Cazares is serving time in state prison for an unrelated conviction.
The third gunman, Jose De La Cruz, was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to life in state prison.
Det. John Berdin, who heads the homicide squad at the LAPD’s Northeast Division, helped track down De La Cruz and participated in the FBI investigation that led to the indictment of the other alleged attackers.
“It’s been a long and hard five years putting this case together,” Berdin said Friday. “And the FBI was just terrific committing its resources to the investigation.”
In addition to Wilson’s killing, the indictment cited several other attacks against blacks by the Avenues gang. They included the beating of a man who was seen walking with a Latino woman, a murder plot against a man who had just moved into the neighborhood, an assault on a group of men playing basketball in Montecito Park, and the beating of an African American who stopped to use a pay phone on the street.
Berdin said the Avenues gang has about 800 members and is broken down into smaller sets or cliques.
The four men indicted in connection with Wilson’s killing were members of the Avenues 43 clique set, which has about 80 to 100 members, according to the LAPD detective.
He said their hatred of blacks runs deep: “A lot of this comes from their strong ties to the Mexican Mafia,” a prison-based gang that is strongly anti-black.