A law enforcement crackdown on Harbor area gangs exposed a vast criminal web stretching well beyond Los Angeles, with illegal drugs and guns being trafficked statewide, authorities announced Monday.
The four-month, multi-agency effort dubbed Operation Safe Harbor zeroed in on an organized crime group based in Los Angeles’ gateway cities. It culminated in 27 arrests, the seizure of 14 firearms, including two privately made firearms — better known as ghost guns without serial numbers — and thousands of fentanyl pills and other illegal drugs, according to the California Department of Justice. Authorities also tracked the far-reaching arms of the alleged criminal enterprise, resulting in additional arrests and probes in Tulare and Kern counties, officials said.
“Today we’ve taken dangerous drugs and weapons off our streets and protected the people of Los Angeles from the ongoing threats that this group caused,” California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said at a news conference Monday. “Families in Los Angeles can go to bed knowing they’re that much safer. … We’re committed to ending the fentanyl crisis [and] to preventing gun violence.”
Bonta declined to share the name of the group or gang, saying he did not want to give them additional notoriety.
But for months, authorities have been focused on quelling gang activity in the Harbor area, specifically linked to the street gangs known as the Westside and Eastside Wilmas, conducting prior crackdowns on the groups in May and February. Officials said the latest operation and arrests built on the work from investigations conducted earlier this year.
“These arrests are the result of a continuing investigation into Mexican Mafia and cartel-affiliated street gangs which have plagued the Harbor area with violent crime, drugs and illegal guns,” Donald Alway, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said in a statement. “The FBI will continue to devote resources to this strong law enforcement partnership with the goal of restoring safe streets.”
The California Department of Justice and the FBI worked with the Los Angeles Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and drug enforcement officials across the state in the crackdown.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore credits the months-long focus on organized crime in the Harbor area for helping to lower crime there.
“When we look at the numbers year to date, shooting violence in the Harbor area is down 12% and violent crime is down 17%,” Moore said Monday. He vowed that the law enforcement partnership would continue to work to dismantle the gang activity, pursuing the more influential leaders in the network.
L.A. Councilmember Tim McOsker, who represents much of the Harbor area, including Watts, Harbor City and Harbor Gateway, commended detectives for their work, calling it lifesaving.
“Over the last nine months — the first nine months of my term — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked in vigil, I’ve gone to rosaries,” McOsker said Monday. “I’ve sat in living rooms of widows and children and folks who have been lost, have lost their loved ones to illegal guns on the street, and to drugs, and to the primary and the secondary activities of these gangs.”
Officials did not release the names of the 27 suspects who were arrested or details about specific cases, but said prosecutors will be looking to file felony charges including transportation of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance for sale, conspiracy to commit a crime and felon in possession of a firearm.