LOS ANGELES - Twenty reputed MS-13 gang members and associates were arraigned Monday in a series of grand jury indictments charging them with operating an extortion ring that targeted food truck owners in Hollywood.
Five separate indictments, returned Jan. 28 and unsealed Monday, charged 25 different individuals, but five of those were not arraigned Monday. Their names were redacted from the indictments and the District Attorney's Office said they could not name them or provide any further information.
The indictments were the culmination of a yearlong investigation dubbed "Protecting the Dream," conducted by the Los Angeles Police Department, the District Attorney's Office and other law enforcement agencies.
The suspected Mara Salvatrucha members and associates allegedly targeted catering trucks at construction job sites, shaking down owners and operators over a five-year period beginning in July 2007. They demanded "rent" ranging from $30 to $100 a week to operate trucks parked in Hollywood, according to prosecutors.
In at least one instance, a defendant threatened to kill a food truck operator and his employees if he did not pay the "rent" money, according to the indictments.
All 20 named defendants -- arrested early Friday morning -- pleaded not guilty before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo.
They range in age from a 63-year-old woman, Martha Lara, to two 17-year- old defendants, charged as adults, Alex Vasquez and Andrew Quintanilla. The other defendants are:
-- Marlon Juarez, 27;
-- Jose Parada, 23;
-- David Alfaro, 20;
-- Alberto Chojolan, 32;
-- Christian A. Serranno, 21;
-- Gerson Perez, 32;
-- Edwin Quintanilla, 21;
-- Jaime Moran, 18;
-- Juan Gomez, 27;
-- Angel Navarro, 18;
-- Edin Juarez, 25;
-- Francisco Ruiz, 19;
-- Isamar Marroquin, 21;
-- Kevin Perez, 22;
-- Yesenia Alfaro, 39;
-- Noemi Cornel, 21; and
-- Hugo Fernandez, 23.
They were ordered to return April 18 for a pretrial hearing.
Mara Salvatrucha, formed in Los Angeles by immigrants from El Salvador and other Central America nations in the 1980s, was recently labeled a transnational criminal organization by federal law enforcement authorities, a designation that enables federal agents to freeze assets.