Gang members sentenced

LOS ANGELES — A guilty verdict Wednesday for nine members and accomplices of a San Fernando Valley street gang brought to 36 the total number of convictions in a massive police crackdown sparked by the shooting death of Burbank Police Officer Matthew Pavelka.

In Wednesday's verdict, a U.S. District Court jury found nine men associated with the Vineland Boyz street gang guilty of a variety of federal narcotics, weapons and violent crime offenses, U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Thom Mrozek said.

U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang said the case was a landmark decision.

"This is the first time in Southern California that the [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] statute has been used to dismantle the leadership of an entire street gang," she said. "As criminal organizations become more sophisticated and more international in scope, we will apply whatever methods are necessary to end their senseless acts of violence. The [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] statute is an important tool."

Seven of the nine men also were convicted of involvement with a racketeering enterprise that has been linked to the shooting death of Pavelka, Mrozek said.

The two-and-a-half-month trial revealed the Vineland Boyz as an organized criminal enterprise with operations in Burbank, North Hollywood, Sun Valley and Palmdale, Mrozek said. Their drug-trafficking activity distributed cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana throughout the Los Angeles area and also out of state, he said.

The seven men convicted under the racketeering act face up to 20 years in federal prison, Mrozek said.

Reseda resident Rafael Yepiz, 35, and Sergio Megia, 39, of Bakersfield, face mandatory life sentences for their roles in the racketeering activity, he said.

Alleged Vineland Boyz member David Garcia, 22, is in state custody awaiting trial for Pavelka's murder.

Pavelka was killed during a Nov. 13, 2003 drug-related shootout in the parking lot of a Ramada Inn when he was called in as back-up on a vehicle stop. Officer Greg Campbell, who was also involved in the incident, suffered major injuries.

Garcia faces eight criminal counts, one count of murder, one count of attempted murder, one count of possession of a controlled substance for transportation and five counts for weapons violations, Los Angeles District Attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said.

"We are seeking the death penalty in this case," she said.

No trial date is set and Garcia is scheduled to appear for a pretrial conference on Tuesday in Pasadena Superior Court.

The crackdown on the Vineland Boyz in 2005 reached Burbank City Hall when police investigations into drug trafficking led them to Glendale resident Scott Schaffer, former boyfriend of then-City Councilwoman Stacey Murphy. Murphy was arrested on cocaine possession and child endangerment charges. A federal grand jury indicted Schaffer on weapons and narcotics charges.

Murphy pleaded guilty on Dec. 22 to felony cocaine possession and misdemeanor child endangerment charges, but avoided a jail sentence in lieu of attending a drug program and parenting classes.

Schaffer pleaded guilty on Nov. 10 on charges of use of a firearm in relation to a drug-trafficking crime and his sentencing has been pushed to Dec. 11, Mrozek said.

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