Three East Los Angeles gang members admitted to carrying out orders from the Mexican Mafia and fire-bombing apartments in the Ramona Gardens projects filled with sleeping women and children solely because they were black.
The members of the Big Hazard street gang agreed to plead guilty on charges for their role in firebombing the homes of African-Americans living in the Ramona Gardens housing development on the night of Mother’s Day in 2014, federal attorneys announced last Thursday.
In their plea agreements, Jose “Lil’ Moe” Saucedo, Edwin “Boogie” Felix, and Jonathan “Pelon” Portillo said their motivation behind the attacks was racial. The gang members targeted the apartments because they belonged to African-Americans and wanted to push them out of the housing complex, said a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Big Hazard, a Latino gang that formed in Boyle Heights, claims Ramona Gardens as their territory. The Los Angeles Times reports that the instructions for the attacks came from the Mexican Mafia, a large and secretive prison gang with deep ties and influence among smaller gangs across Southern California. Big Hazard had tried to keep African-Americans out of the complex for years.
The Big Hazard charges recall the hate-crimes prosecutions of Avenues gang members in Highland Park, who also targeted African American households with “racial animus,” said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles, in an interview Tuesday.
“Avenues was the first one in which federal civil rights laws are used against gangsters, in any form,” Mrozek said. “But in terms of a fire-bombing thing, we have not seen anything like that.”
‘Some Eme members have ordered what amounts to crime waves in their areas.’
In a 2015 interview with L.A. Taco, journalist Sam Quinones explained: “Some Eme members have ordered what amounts to crime waves in their areas. Many have let it be known that they didn’t want blacks operating in their territories, leading gangs to go on ethnic cleansing crusades for several years.”
Plea agreements detailed the Mother’s Day events in 2014: Gang members entered the federal funded housing complex, avoiding security cameras. They smashed windows, and threw Molotov cocktails into pre-selected homes. Families were sleeping inside the homes, three of the four homes belonged to African-American families.
The fourth home was targeted by mistake, Mrozek said.
Saucedo, Felix, and Portillo face potential sentences of over 30 years.
“These defendants have admitted their goal was to drive African Americans out of this housing facility,” said U.S. Attorney Nicola T. Hanna in a statement. “This simply will not be tolerated, and we will take any and all steps necessary to protect the civil rights of every person who lives in the United States.”
Other members of the gang involved with the incident are either awaiting sentencing or their scheduled trial.
* Daniel Hernandez contributed reporting to this story.