Street Gang Leader Is Sentenced to Life on RICO Conviction

Street Gang Leader Is Sentenced to Life on RICO Conviction
His Columbia Li’l Cycos ran drug sales around MacArthur Park. The case was first use of U.S. racketeering law against such a group in L.A.
By David Rosenzweig
Times Staff Writer

February 4 2003

The leader of a street gang that controlled narcotics trafficking in Los Angeles’ crime-plagued MacArthur Park area was sentenced to life in prison plus 60 years Monday after being convicted on federal racketeering charges.

Francisco (Pancho Villa) Martinez, 39, ran the Columbia Li’l Cycos gang from a prison cell, issuing orders to gang members through his wife, who is awaiting sentencing.

All told, 22 Li’l Cycos members have been convicted in what has been described as the first use of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act against a Los Angeles street gang.

Until their indictment three years ago, the Li’l Cycos were raking in about $85,000 a week in protection money from street dealers in the northeast MacArthur Park area, according to testimony in Martinez’s trial last year.

Prosecutors said the gang tried to pattern itself after an East Coast Mafia family. Instead of squandering their money, they plowed much of it into the purchase of suburban homes, two restaurants, a used car lot and a juice bar.

Some money was also sent to Mexico for safekeeping.

FBI agents seized about $450,000 in cash, along with thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, when they raided the home of Martinez’s wife, Janie Maria Garcia, 52, in Monterey Park, and those of other relatives.

But like so many Mafia families, the Li’l Cycos became embroiled in deadly turf battles with rival gangs. In court Monday, special Assistant U.S. Atty. Luis Li said Martinez was responsible for the assassinations of three people and the attempted murders of three others during his reign as the gang’s “godfather.” Li asked the court to impose the maximum sentence under federal sentencing guidelines.

Defense attorney Gerald Scotti argued that his client should be given a lighter sentence because he has been held under harsh conditions — in solitary confinement — and because he has accepted responsibility for his crimes.

But U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew rejected the argument, saying a sentence of life in prison plus 60 years was justified “given the nature of the charges.” Several members of Martinez’s family wept softly as the judge spoke.

Martinez, who has been behind bars since 1994, had only one request — that he be allowed to join his friends in prison. Lew said that is up to the Bureau of Prisons to decide.

Although this was the first RICO prosecution of a Los Angeles street gang, federal prosecutors have successfully used the law against members of the prison-based Mexican Mafia. And RICO prosecutions are pending against three other groups, the Wah Ching street gang and two prison gangs, the Nazi Low Riders, and the Aryan Brotherhood.

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