Marked Man

Felix Medina and his gang compatriots ruthlessly ruled a south central neighborhood. Now the party's over.

Fellow gang members and police allege Medina also took part in the jackings, an accusation Medina denies.

"Not only did he [Medina] take the money, he took everything else you had -- a watch. I seen a lot of guys [who were robbed by Medina], maybe on a daily basis," says Ricardo in a taped interview.

Medina assured the police he had no reason to steal.

Felix Medina makes a point in court. To his right is fellow LCM member Margarito Rodarte.
Paolo Vescia
Felix Medina makes a point in court. To his right is fellow LCM member Margarito Rodarte.
Sergeant F. Duran, in a prison area where the walls are lined with photos of documented gang members.
Paolo Vescia
Sergeant F. Duran, in a prison area where the walls are lined with photos of documented gang members.

"I could go to any wetback and tell them, 'What's up? Can I get some?' And they would give it to me, man," Medina claimed. "They would have to give it to me. I didn't have to jack. I didn't have to point a gun."

Phoenix Police Detective Derek Stephenson places a four-inch-thick black binder on a table at police headquarters and leafs through pages chronicling the police racketeering investigation of the Eastside Los Cuatro Milpas.

There are photographs of Medina taken over the years by cops who encountered him and his LCM homeboys, mostly during traffic stops. Early photos show a slender, defiant kid throwing down the LCM gang sign. His postprison photos reveal a beefed up, angry man. Others depict his strung-out crack phase and subsequent flabby recovery.

Besides Medina, the police identified several top LCM members they say are responsible for numerous armed robberies, assaults, thefts, narcotics trafficking and generally terrorizing the neighborhood. They include:

• Margarito Rodarte, 20, also known as Lito. Police and gang members say the 5-10, 275-pound Rodarte worshiped Medina and became his shadow. Rodarte was abandoned by his parents at a young age and relied on Medina for money and status.

Rodarte joined LCM when he was 14 and dropped out of high school two credits short of graduating. He traded a diploma for a cocaine addiction. He suffered a serious knife wound to his stomach in a gang scrap in January 1998. He'd already racked up several felony convictions prior to the latest police investigation.

Rodarte told police he joined LCM because "I just wanted to be more accepted."

• Joseph Torres Munguia, 24, also known as Baby Joe. Munguia says he was born into LCM and, like Medina, was convicted of several felonies as a teenager. The 5-8, 150-pound Munguia was sentenced to a four-year prison term in 1993 on attempted auto theft and burglary convictions.

Munguia started drinking alcohol when he was 12 and ingesting cocaine when he was 15. He added heroin to the mix when he was 21.

Munguia told police he wasn't concerned about going back to prison. "It doesn't matter. It's the same in prison as out. I'll walk out again."

• Raynaldo Daniel Valenzuela, 20, also known as Porky and Fat Ray. Valenzuela, 5-11, 245 pounds, lived north of the Milpas neighborhood but was jumped into LCM anyway. He earned respect by surviving three separate shootings, one of which landed him in the hospital for more than a month.

Unlike the other LCM grandes, Valenzuela had no felony convictions prior to the latest police investigation of LCM. He worked full-time as a shop helper to support his grandmother, who raised him.

Valenzuela told police he joined LCM after members of a rival gang pointed a gun at his head as he walked home from Phoenix Preparatory Academy. "Life would be easier for me," he told police.

This is just the latest crop of Eastside Los Cuatro Milpas grandes. Many have come before, with most ending up in prison or dead. More are sure to follow.

"As long as you have the neighborhood, you'll have gangs. That's just the culture," says Angelo Orozco, who grew up in the neighborhood and has worked the last 22 years in the area.

Orozco is a maintenance man at the Wesley Community Center, which provides a wide array of services to the community ranging from recreation to preschool. Orozco has seen many kids become enmeshed in the gang culture, sometimes with disastrous results.

"Five or six of them are dead," he says. "They didn't even make it past 20. Some didn't make it past 18."

Los Cuatro Milpas was started in the mid-1950s by a core group of about 30 Hispanic men who lived in the area bounded by 11th, 14th, Mohave and Yuma streets. The area has expanded over the years to its present-day boundaries of Seventh, 16th and Mohave streets and Buckeye Road.

The primarily Hispanic neighborhood is surrounded by industrial and transportation corridors -- Sky Harbor to the east, Interstate 17 to the south and the Southern Pacific Railroad yard to the north. Pounded by noise, contaminated by pollution and depressed by grinding poverty, the Milpas have transformed from a bucolic irrigated neighborhood with farm fields, gardens and massive trees into a dusty tangle of junkyards, vacant lots and collapsing houses. Interspersed are a few well-kept homes surrounded by rose gardens, a signal that hope persists amid desperation.

Helen Brock built her home in the neighborhood in 1947 and has seen the decay and increase in gang violence. She isn't the type to run and hide. She's actively involved in a city-sponsored program called "Fight Back" that provides basic -- although limited -- services to the community to counter blight, poverty and gangs.

"You can't let them intimidate you. They have shot at my house and shot at my cars," she says while standing in the driveway of her home, which is surrounded by a barbed-wire-topped chain-link fence.

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