A major bust went down across the region last Thursday, as 20 alleged members of La Mara Salvatrucha 13 street gang were arrested for their roles in a shakedown of Hollywood food trucks that continued for at least five years. Following a year's investigation by over 200 LAPD officers, many of the defendants were booked on seven-figure bails and charged with extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion. According to the charges, several trucks serving locals and construction workers were pressed to pay tribute through intimidation, including threats of violence and murder.
The L.A. Times reports that many details are still shrouded in the full indictment, but that the allegations include a record of at least one lonchero operating in MS13 territory threatened repeatedly with violence if he didn't cough up a weekly rent of $30 to $50, in addition to supplying the gang's soldiers with free food. In another circumstance, a food truck operator was threatened with death if he refused to pay "rent."
The widespread Salvadoran-U.S. gang, which was declared a "transnational criminal organization" last fall, has a history of leaning on immigrant populations in L.A. that typically depend on a low-profile and skirting a few laws to eek out a living. The defendants in this emerging conspiracy case will face a judge next month.