LOS ANGELES – Authorities this morning arrested 28 members and associates of the South Los Angeles-based Eastside Playboys street gang on federal racketeering, narcotics and firearms charges. Today’s arrests stem from six grand jury indictments, one of which alleges a racketeering scheme and includes allegations of narcotics and weapons trafficking, as well as the extortion of local businesses.
One of the indictments alleges that the gang is a criminal enterprise under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. This indictment outlines the structure of the gang, its allegiance to the Mexican Mafia prison gang, and how it generates revenue through, among other things, the sale of narcotics and firearms.
Those arrested today are among 41 members and associates of the gang named across the six indictments. Three of the defendants were already in custody, and law enforcement continues to search for 10 defendants.
During this investigation, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs seized from the Playboys and their associates approximately 47 firearms, 199 kilograms of methamphetamine, 13.6 kilograms of fentanyl, 27 kilograms of cocaine, 7.6 kilograms of heroin, 283 kilograms of marijuana, and $140,000 in cash. The RICO indictment further alleges that members of the racketeering enterprise operated two unlicensed marijuana dispensaries.
“This case is the culmination of years of work by our agents and prosecutors, alongside our local law enforcement partners, to remove violent gang members from our streets and dismantle the criminal organizations that fuel violent crime,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Justice Department has no tolerance for violent gangs that sow fear and terror in our communities, and we will continue to use every tool we have to stop them and bring them to justice.”
“The indictments unsealed today charge a gang that stands accused of plaguing South Los Angeles for 50 years through repeated acts of violence, drug trafficking, extortion of local businesses, and weapons violations,” said Acting United States Attorney Stephanie S. Christensen. “Today’s coordinated law enforcement action targeted the Playboys street gang because of its alleged widespread criminal conduct, as well as the fear and intimidation its members imposed on our community.”
“Members and associates of this gang have built a criminal enterprise by trafficking in guns and deadly drugs, by extorting business owners, and by terrorizing victims with violent assaults and robberies,” said Amir Ehsaei, the Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The FBI will continue to work with our local partners to identify the gangs wreaking havoc on our communities and to use federal tools to hold major offenders accountable for their crimes.”
“I am proud of the hard work and dedication of our LAPD officers, the FBI and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs on such a demanding investigation,” said Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore. “Organized street gangs prey upon our communities with violence, intimidation and fear. Their tradecraft is furthered by the trafficking of dangerous firearms and narcotics. As in this case, and others, with strong federal partners and the support of our communities we are able to remove the distributors and root cause of such violence from of our neighborhoods.”
Today’s arrests are the result of an investigation that was opened about four years ago by the FBI and the multi-agency Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs. The investigation, dubbed Operation Down the Rabbit Hole, utilized an array of tactics, including wiretaps and surveillance, to uncover evidence of extortion of businesses, violent robberies, burglaries, narcotics and firearms trafficking, and violence against their own members as “discipline” for violating gang rules and norms.
As part of the overall racketeering enterprise, some defendants engaged in large-scale drug trafficking, including sending kilogram quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl through the United States Postal Service, FedEx and United Parcel Service. Some defendants also allegedly distributed cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl powder and counterfeit fentanyl-laced pills in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
The 44-count RICO indictment charges 18 defendants, nine of whom are named in the racketeering conspiracy count. Various defendants are also charges with Hobbs Act conspiracy and robbery; a drug trafficking conspiracy; distribution and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances; using and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and a drug trafficking crime; being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition; and engaging in the business of dealing in firearms without a license.
The lead defendant in the RICO indictment is Eliseo Luna, 47, of South Los Angeles, who acted as overall “shot caller” for the gang, according to the indictment. Luna – who used a number of monikers, including “Chilo,” “Crazy,” “Toca” and “El Abogado” – allegedly oversaw the Playboys’ drug trafficking activities, gave orders to Playboys’ general leadership and membership, and authorized the assault and murder of members in bad standing with Playboys.
The 110-page RICO indictment alleges that four of the defendants participated in a March 2020 home invasion robbery of a marijuana dealer at a residence in Woodland Hills. In a subsequent conversation with Luna outlined in the indictment, one of the alleged robbers described the home invasion robbery, including the restraint of the victim, the theft of up to $50,000 in cash and approximately 10 pounds of marijuana, and a gun fight between the robbers and the victim, which resulted in one of the robbers being shot in the stomach by the robbery victim.
The RICO indictment outlines numerous conversations about criminal acts and specifically alleges that several gang members possessed approximately 3.3 kilograms of heroin at one point. One defendant also allegedly participated in the attempted murder of a Playboys member who was stabbed in the head and torso multiple times for betraying the gang.
A second indictment unsealed today names 17 defendants, all of whom are charged with participating in a narcotics-trafficking conspiracy. One of the defendants – Elvis Arreguin, 31, of San Pedro – allegedly maintained a laboratory in Long Beach where fentanyl and methamphetamine were processed.
“On July 7, 2021, defendant Arreguin and a co-conspirator drove together to a UPS store in Long Beach, California, where the co-conspirator dropped off a package containing approximately 10.007 kilograms of fentanyl that were packaged in one-kilogram bundles and covered in mustard,” the indictment alleges.
Another indictment charges four defendants with participating in a scheme to distribute methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. The lead defendant in this case, Francisco Soria, 29, of South Los Angeles, an alleged member of a Latino street gang in Watts with close ties to the Playboys, is charged with possessing with the intent to distribute approximately 12 ounces of fentanyl, 20 ounces of heroin, and more than an ounce of methamphetamine. Soria also allegedly possessed two firearms – one of which was a 9mm “ghost gun” – in furtherance of drug trafficking.
The other three indictments unsealed today charge individual defendants with drug trafficking offenses, including Rene Paul Romero, a.k.a. “Capone,” 45, of Whittier, who allegedly knowingly distributed approximately 436 grams (nearly one pound) of methamphetamine.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The defendants arrested today are expected to be arraigned this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
The RICO conspiracy and Hobbs Act robbery charges each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. The narcotics and firearms offenses carry a range of potential sentences, many of which include a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years in prison.
Operation Down the Rabbit Hole was led by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs which is comprised of the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department. Considerable assistance was provided by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the United States Marshals Service; the Joint Regional Intelligence Center; the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; the United States Bureau of Prisons; the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; and the Los Angeles County Probation Department.
Assistant United States Attorneys Damaris Diaz and Claire E. Kelly of the Violent and Organized Crime Section, and Christopher C. Kendall and Maria Elena Stiteler of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering, and Racketeering Section are prosecuting these cases.
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News