Los Angeles (AFP) - Seven members of a notorious Los Angeles street gang with ties to the Mexican Mafia were charged in an indictment unsealed Thursday for their role in attacks targeting African-Americans.
The men, all members of the Big Hazard gang, allegedly took part in the 2014 firebombing of several residences of African-Americans in the city's Boyle Heights neighborhood in a bid to push blacks out, according to the indictment handed down June 22.
"The defendants used firebombs to drive the victims from their homes because of their race," said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division. "This is a hate crime.
"Such violence and intimidation have no place in our society."
Authorities said the attacks were spurred by the gang's bid to reclaim control of the neighborhood's Ramona Gardens housing project, once a bleak crime-infested area where the police dared enter only in groups.
In recent years, however, crime has lessened in Ramona Gardens and more black families have moved in.
The indictment alleges that Hazard members would spray paint or "tag" gang monikers and symbols on businesses and residences in the neighborhood and would meet to discuss ways to deter blacks from living there.
On May 12, 2014, the gang members, wearing gloves and disguises, went on a firebombing rampage, authorities said.
They split into groups, breaking victims' windows before hurling the firebombs to maximize damage, according to the charge sheet.
Following the attacks nearly 40 gang members were indicted in 2014 on drug-related and other charges but the firebombing attacks went unresolved.
The seven men named in the 10-count indictment unsealed Thursday were identified as Carlos Hernandez, 31; Jose Saucedo, 22; Francisco Farias, 25; Joseue Garibay, 23; Edwin Felix, 23; Jonathan Portillo, 21; and 21-year-old Joel Monarrez.
They were charged with conspiracy to violate civil rights, arson, carrying explosives, racketeering and several other related crimes.
Saucedo, aka "Lil' Moe," allegedly would confront black residents in Ramona Gardens, including children, and bluntly tell them they were not welcome in the neighborhood and risked harm if they stayed.
Saucedo and his co-defendants face maximum prison sentences of 110 to 115 years or life behind bars.