The FBI and Los Angeles police joined other law enforcement agencies in a predawn gang sweep Thursday, arresting 28 members of the Eastside Playboys gang as part of racketeering, narcotics and firearms cases that name about 40 of the gang’s leading members.
Heavily armed FBI agents and police officers fanned out across L.A. and into various surrounding communities, arresting those named in federal criminal court documents as being part of a scheme that sold narcotics, assaulted foes and sometimes led to murder.
The arrests are the culmination of a deep probe into the gang activities involving wiretaps and extensive surveillance for years dubbed “Operation Rabbit Hole” by the FBI and the multi-agency Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs.
Those charged and arrested Thursday are the latest generation of key players in the South Los Angeles-based Eastside Playboys street gang that for five decades has sold narcotics and guns on L.A.’s streets and is deeply tied to the Mexican Mafia prison gang. The indictments set out that Eastside Playboys used the U.S. Post Office, United Parcel Service and FedEx to distribute kilos of cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl and were partly responsible for deadly fentanyl-laced pills that flooded the drug markets of Southern California.
“This case is the culmination of years of work by our agents and prosecutors, alongside our local law enforcement partners, to remove violent gang members from our streets and dismantle the criminal organizations that fuel violent crime,” said Atty. Gen. Merrick B. Garland in a statement announcing the charges. “The Justice Department has no tolerance for violent gangs that sow fear and terror in our communities, and we will continue to use every tool we have to stop them and bring them to justice.”
Investigators gathered evidence of extortion of businesses, violent robberies, burglaries, narcotics and firearms trafficking, and violence against their own members as “discipline” for violating gang rules and norms, according to a series of indictments unsealed Thursday. The six federal grand jury indictments set out the extensive business of the gang and include one of which alleges a racketeering scheme and includes allegations of narcotics and weapons trafficking, as well as the extortion of local businesses.
One of the indictments tags the gang as a criminal enterprise under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the longstanding measure used by federal prosecutors to target the most organized of criminal operations.
Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman, said the 28 arrestees are among 41 members and associates of the gang named across the six indictments. Three of the defendants were already in custody, and authorities continued on Thursday to search for 10 defendants who remain fugitives.
The 44-count RICO indictment identifies Eliseo Luna, 47, of South Los Angeles as the overall “shot caller” for the gang. Luna, known as “Chilo,” “Crazy,” “Toca” and “El Abogado,” is accused of overseeing the Playboys’ drug trafficking activities, giving orders to its leadership and membership, and authorizing the assault and murder of members in bad standing with Playboys, according to the indictment.
The task force seized from the Playboys and their associates 47 firearms, 199 kilograms of methamphetamine, 13.6 kilograms of fentanyl, 27 kilograms of cocaine, 7.6 kilograms of heroin, 283 kilograms of marijuana, and $140,000 in cash.
The 110-page RICO indictment alleges that members operated two unlicensed marijuana dispensaries using the gang’s drug supplies.
It also sets out that four of the defendants in March 2020 participated in a home-invasion robbery of a Woodland Hills marijuana dealer’s home. According to the indictment, one of the participants told Luna about how they tied up the dealer and stole $50,000 in cash and about 10 pounds of marijuana. The home invasion didn’t go as planned as the victim, during a gun battle with the robbers, shot one of them in the stomach.
Other conversations captured by federal agents included one where a defendant described participating in the attempted murder of a Playboys member who was stabbed in the head and body multiple times for betraying the gang.
“Members and associates of this gang have built a criminal enterprise by trafficking in guns and deadly drugs, by extorting business owners, and by terrorizing victims with violent assaults and robberies,” said Amir Ehsaei, the acting assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
Another indictment unsealed Thursday named 17 defendants, all of whom are charged with participating in a narcotics-trafficking conspiracy. One of those, Elvis Arreguin, 31, of San Pedro, is accused of allegedly running a laboratory in Long Beach where fentanyl and methamphetamine were processed. In July 2021, he and another co-conspirator drove to a UPS store in the city, where the co-conspirator dropped off a package of about 10 kilograms of fentanyl packaged in one-kilogram bundles and covered in mustard, the indictment alleges.
“Organized street gangs prey upon our communities with violence, intimidation and fear,” said LAPD Chief Michel Moore. “Their tradecraft is furthered by the trafficking of dangerous firearms and narcotics.”
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