Federal indictment targets South Bay street gang involved in drug trafficking, including smuggling meth into a California state prison
LOS ANGELES – Authorities have arrested eight members and associates of the East Side Torrance street gang on federal narcotics trafficking and firearms charges stemming from an investigation that led to a number of seizures, including 20 pounds of methamphetamine that was discovered in a Torrance apartment complex.
A federal grand jury indictment targets the leadership and key members of the gang, which distributed methamphetamine and other drugs out of the South Bay and the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles. The indictment alleges the gang trafficked pound-quantities of methamphetamine to Colorado, and also smuggled methamphetamine and heroin into Kern Valley State Prison in Delano, California.
Various defendants allegedly possessed firearms to maintain control of their gang “territory,” to control drug trafficking, and to retaliate against rivals, the indictments allege.
The seven-count indictment charges 10 defendants in a conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine, heroin and other illegal drugs. In addition to the eight arrested today, two defendants are currently in state custody.
The indictment unsealed today is the result of a three-year investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Torrance Police Department.
“Street gangs bring the twin plagues of narcotics and violence to their neighborhoods, endangering everyone who lives there,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “This case is the product of an excellent working relationship between federal and local law enforcement authorities, all of whom are committed to increasing public safety in every community.”
“Street gangs such as East Side Torrance are responsible for pushing drugs onto our streets and putting our citizens in serious danger,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge David J. Downing. “Nevertheless, the coordinated enforcement action that occurred this morning illustrates how effective our law enforcement alliances are in disrupting and dismantling these criminal organizations.”
“Today’s arrests targeted the leaders of a criminal enterprise who used firearms and the threat of violence to run a drug distribution network from the South Bay of Los Angeles to Colorado and even inside prison walls,” said Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office Paul Delacourt. “Today’s arrests are the results of a collaborative effort among federal and local partners to target the most violent gangs that continue to plague our communities.”
“The Torrance Police Department is dedicated to working with our state and federal partners to ensure our communities are safe and that offenders are brought to justice,” said Torrance Police Chief Eve R. Irvine.
The lead defendant in the indictment – Carmen Merejil, a.k.a. “Caveman,” 52, of Carson – allegedly directed the drug trafficking operation and used his East Side Torrance gang associates to sell large amounts of methamphetamine, heroin and other drugs in the gang’s territory. Merejil also allegedly directed the trafficking of large quantities of methamphetamine to a distributor in Delta, Colorado for redistribution there. Finally, Merejil and other defendants are alleged to have packaged and smuggled controlled substances into Kern Valley State Prison, where an incarcerated East Side Torrance street gang member distributed the drugs and sent money back to Merejil and other defendants.
In March 2016, law enforcement seized more than 20 pounds of methamphetamine – along with cocaine, MDMA and other drugs – from a stash house maintained by Merejil and his associates. Authorities also intercepted nearly two ounces of methamphetamine that had been smuggled into Kern Valley State Prison. Other large quantities of methamphetamine were seized from other alleged co-conspirators at various points during the investigation, including the seizure of nearly one pound of methamphetamine by agents executing a search warrant in Colorado.
The defendants taken into custody this morning are scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles. The defendants currently in state prison are expected to be arraigned in federal court in the coming weeks.
If convicted, each of the defendants would face decades in federal prison. The charge of conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life without parole.
The investigation targeting the East Side Torrance gang was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Torrance Police Department. During the investigation, substantial assistance was received from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Redondo Beach Police Department, the Hermosa Beach Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Gregory Lesser and Shawn Andrews of the Violent and Organized Crime Section.