Riverside, CA: Vagos motorcycle gang leaders arrested in raid

Attempting to behead the leadership of the notorious Vagos motorcycle gang, authorities arrested 10 members suspected of drug trafficking and a rash of violence - including the recent murder of a rival Hells Angel member in a Nevada casino - in a series of law enforcement raids Thursday throughout Southern California.

The crackdown comes after an 18-month investigation led by the state Department of Justice into one of the most violent criminal motorcycle gangs in the nation, authorities said. Members of the gang, which started in the Inland Empire in the 1960s, stand accused of murder, rape, weapons violations, money laundering and drug violations.

"It's a dangerous organization ... that's responsible for putting drugs into our communities and schools," said Senior Special Agent David King, head of the bureau of narcotics enforcement in Riverside. "These individuals are armed to protect their criminal enterprise, and they've shown how quickly they are willing to use their guns in public."

State agents joined with local law enforcement agencies early Thursday to execute 52 search warrants in San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Imperial counties. Arrest warrants also were issued for 12 high-ranking Vagos members, 10 of whom were in custody by late morning.

A team of officers from the San Bernardino Police Department and the state Department of Justice took a battering ram to the door of the Vagos international president in Colton, busting into the house with weapons drawn.

The Vagos leader was gone, but officers handcuffed another man inside and escorted a woman and young child outside while they searched the house. The tiny stucco home, with its tot-size basketball hoop in the driveway and towering palms outside, blended into others in the blue-collar neighborhood.

The only indication that a Vagos member lived inside was the black Harley Davidson emblem decorating the home's address number on the curb.

The Vagos leader remains at large. Authorities asked that he not be identified until his arrest.

A few miles away, near the Cal State San Bernardino campus, another squad raided the house of Scott Rivera, spending hours inside searching for weapons, drugs and evidence of his involvement with the Vagos.

Rivera - a bald, heavyset man with a Fu Manchu mustache - gave only a silent, icy stare as officers led him out of the house in handcuffs and loaded him into a squad car. Rivera was arrested on suspicion of stealing cars.

Authorities raided a Vagos clubhouse in the remote Riverside County town of Anza as well as one in North Hollywood. More than 200 weapons were seized, including 100 from a house in Alhambra and 50 in Diamond Bar.

"It's going to be a tremendous blow, because we're targeting their top leaders," said special agent Andy Spillman of the Department of Justice, one of the lead investigators on the case.

Before Thursday's raids, more than 25 Vagos members already had been taken into custody, and authorities had recovered 26 firearms, a rocket launcher and a grenade launcher during the investigation. Earlier in the operation, investigators also had seized 200 kilos of cocaine during a raid not far from Cal State Los Angeles.

The state Department of Justice launched "Operation Simple Green" in 2010 to dismantle the Vagos' extensive narcotics and money-laundering operations, which included the wholesale distribution of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana.

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