11 L.A. '18th Street' Gang Members Face RICO Charges for Aiding Mexican Mafia

Eleven members and associates of a notorious street gang have been indicted on federal racketeering charges of using threats and violence to control the drug trade near downtown Los Angeles.

The indictment, unsealed Tuesday, accuses the defendants of belonging to two "cliques" of the 18th Street gang that acted at the behest of imprisoned Mexican Mafia member Ruben Castro.

It's the latest example of prosecutors bringing charges under a statute traditionally used against the Mafia — the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO — to target street gangs.

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According to the indictment, the two 18th Street cliques ran the distribution of crack cocaine around various downtown neighborhoods, and Castro relayed his orders through his girlfriend.

Gang members allegedly gave drug dealers exclusive right to sell in certain territories, providing them protection while charging a percentage of theirs drug profits in exchange. If profits went unpaid, the cliques would assess fines or use violence, prosecutors said.

"It's kind of a classic protection racket," said Chief Assistant United States Attorney George S. Cardona. "People who are engaging in illegal activities in the gang's territories are paying for protection."

The indictment charges Castro and 10 leaders of the two cliques with conspiring to violate RICO laws. Seven others accused of dealing or supplying narcotics face drug trafficking conspiracies.

Castro, 46, is serving a life sentence in federal prison in Colorado in connection with his 1997 conviction on felony racketeering charges in Los Angeles.

If convicted, the defendants could face prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life.