Sweep Targets Vineland Boyz

Times Staff Writers

More than 1,300 federal and local police officers descended on the east San Fernando Valley before sunrise Tuesday, arresting nearly two dozen suspected gang members for allegedly operating a criminal enterprise that authorities blame for the murders of two police officers and a 16-year-old girl.

The Vineland Boyz, a tight-knit gang that grew out of a football team in the late 1980s, was one of the most violent street gangs in the San Fernando Valley, but it operated primarily as a business, trading in narcotics and high-end illegal weapons and stealing big-ticket appliances from construction sites, according to a federal indictment made public Tuesday.

To avoid detection, members shunned gang clothes, dressing smartly. They used automotive brands as code names to grade drugs; high-end cocaine was dubbed “Audi,” police said.


The gang absorbed several other street gangs, forged an alliance with the Mexican Mafia to boost its narcotics trade, and controlled large areas of the San Fernando Valley and Burbank, the indictment said.

The gang became the focus of law enforcement in November 2003, when reputed member David Garcia allegedly fatally shot Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka near the Bob Hope Airport and fled across the Mexican border. Garcia was captured 13 days later by the U.S. Marshals Service.

During the manhunt for Garcia, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said he had made a pledge to Burbank Police Chief Thomas Hoefel that their departments would join forces to “put the gang out of business.”

At a morning news conference, Bratton said he had made good on his promise. The suspects picked up in the raid would become “the poster boys for what would happen to any gang that kills a police officer,” Bratton said.

At an afternoon news conference outside Burbank police headquarters, U.S. Atty. Debra Wong Yang said the raids, one of the largest recent multi-agency operations in the region, and the 56-count federal indictment that accompanied it “effectively crippled the gang.”

Twenty-three suspects named in the federal grand jury indictment were arrested Tuesday, mostly in the Sun Valley area. The 159-page indictment accuses the suspected gang members of violating federal drug and weapons laws as well as RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), a statute traditionally used to target Mafia organized crime families.


Thirteen other suspects had been taken into custody earlier, while seven remain at large.

Seven of those indicted are alleged to have been involved in four murders, including that of Pavelka. The seven -- Garcia, Horacio Yepiz, Luis Sandoval, Javier Covarrubius, Jose Ledesma, Gustavo Rodriguez and Raul Robledo -- could face the federal death penalty if convicted. Many of the others face potentially lengthy federal sentences.

One of the other slaying victims was a teenage girl allegedly killed in 2003 because she was helping police, the indictment said. The girl was not named.

Authorities believe the gang also was responsible for the killing of LAPD Officer James Beyea in 1988, although his death was not mentioned in the indictment. The alleged shooter in the officer’s death, a burglary suspect, was shot and killed at the scene by other officers.

For months, detectives had wiretapped suspected gang conversations. In a Feb. 17 conversation, according to the indictment, suspected Boyz member Cleto Vasquez said that an associate wanted to purchase “high-tech weapons, including grenade launchers.”

Dubbed “Silent Night,” the predawn crackdown culminated an 18-month investigation by Los Angeles police, Burbank police and a joint federal anti-drug task force.

Backed by seven special weapons and tactics teams, armored vehicles and nine helicopters, police served search warrants at 43 locations concentrated mostly in the North Hollywood and Sun Valley areas but ranging as far as Bakersfield and Antelope Valley and Simi Valley.


They reported seizing 41 guns and 12 pounds of narcotics, and arresting 36 people -- some on weapons and drug charges not foreseen in the indictment.

Officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Glendale and Pasadena police departments, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives filled the Burbank High School auditorium at 1 a.m. during a pre-raid briefing. The raid began at 3:30 a.m.

Some of the sleepy-eyed suspects were escorted from their homes clad only in underwear. The LAPD set off a beanbag round to subdue a woman at one of the suspect’s homes. Another suspect tried to flee but was grabbed by officers, police said.

Before the raids, Bratton said, officers had already made 231 arrests tied to the gang, confiscated 25 vehicles and 75 weapons and seized nearly $1 million in cash and hundreds of pounds of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Burbank’s Chief Hoefel said his officers are living up to the promise they made the day Pavelka died. “We vowed at the time that we would not rest until we stopped the Vineland Boyz from being able to run their criminal enterprise,” Hoefel said.