A tagging crew has robbed at least 22 taco truck vendors at gunpoint over the last three months along busy commercial streets in East L.A., sheriff's detectives said Thursday.
The robberies have rattled the taco truck community, and officials said some vendors have been reluctant to report them for fear of retaliation from the tagging crew as well as problems with authorities.
As a result, detectives believe there could be more unreported robberies.
"They're easy targets," said Sgt. Ruben Rava of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Criminals "know there's going to be cash at hand. They know a number of them are Mexican nationals, some who are here illegally and may be reluctant to report it for fear of deportation."
Investigators said the robberies from April 5 through June 27 occurred late in the evening along major streets such as Whittier Boulevard, Cesar Chavez Avenue and Olympic Boulevard.
At least four members of the Fearless Kings, the tagger crew, which authorities have now designated a gang because of the thefts, were taken into custody in late June and mid-July.
Detectives commend Alfredo Magallanes of the Assn. of Lunch Trucks of Los Angeles, who helped bring the truck vendors together and persuaded them to come forward to help authorities.
Magallanes, 52, said the truck vendors didn't report the crimes right away because they were under the false impression that a county ordinance prohibiting catering trucks from parking in one spot for more than an hour was still in effect.
That ordinance was overturned only months after it was passed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in April.
But Magallanes said some police officers are still implementing the former ordinance.
"So for that reason there was this fear that if you talked to police that would mean they would know your location and perhaps they might come around and force you to move," Magallanes said.
At least four members of the crew have been arrested in connection with the robberies: Samuel Razo, 20; Miguel Torres, 21; Julio Osuna, 21; and Jesse Moreno, 18.
All of the men live in East Los Angeles , Rava said.
"There is still one outstanding suspect and we're asking for the public's help," Rava said.
Nery "Hope" Perez, 21, is described as 5 feet 8 and 160 pounds.
"He's got green eyes and a tattoo of a bat on the right side of his neck," Nava said. "He has a very distinctive look."
Nava said investigators also were working with detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department's Hollenbeck Division to determine if seven robberies committed in their area were connected to those in East Los Angeles.