Armed federal agents wearing all-black helmets and bulletproof vests conducted a raid shrouded in early morning darkness Wednesday in San Fernando as part of a larger operation against suspected gun traffickers and narcotics dealers.
Just moments after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents yelled, "Open the door! Open the door!" they swept through a cramped house in the 1400 block of Coronel Street, whose residents lived in what were later described as pack-rat conditions. Agents led a handcuffed man and a woman out of the home and shortly after 4 a.m. retrieved four guns, about $10,000 in cash and methamphetamine.
The suspects, identified as Anival Alvarez, 41, and Maribel Lopez-Reyes, 30, were charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and two counts of distributing about one-quarter pound of the drug, authorities said.
The couple’s home was one of several in the San Fernando Valley raided by Los Angeles police and federal agents Wednesday as part of a joint six-month investigation by the two agencies. Seventeen people have been arrested on federal and state firearm and drug charges, including eight on Wednesday. Three others remain fugitives.
Officials said that suspects with nicknames like “Dragon” and “Trippy” are part of a secret world of gun runners and violent criminals across the San Fernando Valley and parts of Palmdale and Lancaster. They are also believed to be involved in shootings.
"Working with the LAPD we went after the people responsible for the violent crimes in the San Fernando Valley.… They provide the guns or used them," said ATF Special Agent in Charge Eric Harden, who oversees the Los Angeles field division.
In a sad postscript to the operation, the Department of Children and Family Services took custody of 14 children and placed them in protective care.
The joint investigation – dubbed Crime Area Gun Enforcement, or CAGE – targeted people involved in shootings tied to gangs such as Blythe, Langdon, Pacoima and San Fer. During the investigation, agents recovered an array of weaponry, including SKS rifles, a TEC-9, AR-15 rifles, an AK-47, a shotgun with a short barrel and pistols and silencers.
At least 10 more weapons were recovered on Wednesday morning.
In a nice neighborhood in Granada Hills, ATF SWAT agents rode up in an armored vehicle and raided a home where they found more than a dozen people inside. Officials said some were under the influence of drugs. Just moments before, authorities said an undercover agent witnessed a drug deal take place at the curb in front of the home.
Federal officials said that as part of the investigation, an undercover agent traveled around the San Fernando Valley, spending thousands of dollars buying an arsenal of illegal weapons from gun dealers, including assault rifles without serial numbers. He told the sellers that he could get rid of guns that had had “work done” – street parlance for those used in shootings, authorities said.
On Wednesday, when they were arrested, the gun dealers discovered that the man buying up their weapons was an ATF agent.
In addition to the weapons seized, authorities have recovered 18 pounds of methamphetamine. Investigators also uncovered two places where assault-type rifles were being secretly manufactured and sold. During the investigation, authorities also purchased 400 rounds of assorted ammunition and narcotics that included marijuana and cocaine.
At one home, a suspect facing federal drug sales and conspiracy charges was led away in handcuffs as others who lived in the residence shivered on the sidewalk in the morning chill.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who assigned 11 officers to the investigation, said that removing guns from the streets is a department priority.
“Removing even one gun from the streets means one less Angeleno robbed, shot or murdered,” Beck said.