City of Coke

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The first major bust of such a New Eme franchise was three years ago in Glendale, where police took down a network in which Sinaloan Cowboys were selling heroin, cocaine and marijuana to members of the Mexican Mafia and two other Glendale street gangs. Thirty-five gang members were arrested, including one member of the Grandel 52 gang who, as undercover officers watched, sold black tar heroin from a card table in his carport, with a line down the driveway.

More recently, in February 1998, the Phoenix Police Department and the FBI's Violent Street Gang Task Force dropped the curtain on Operation Taxation, an eight-month investigation into the Carbajal faction of the East Side Ninth Street gang. (East Side Ninth Street has been active in the downtown Garfield neighborhood since the late 1970s; the gang split into separate hostile factions following a New Year's Eve 1993 shooting in pro boxer and reputed gang member Michael Carbajal's front yard, where one Ninth Street gang member blew another away.)

Operation Taxation focused upon the Carbajal faction's drug trafficking and widespread extortion of Garfield residents, especially small-time drug dealers from Mexico. ("Carbajal faction" is a law-enforcement term; no one named Carbajal was arrested as a result of the investigation.) In one incident detailed in court records, Ninth Streeter Phillip "Little Bullet" Camou, 17 at the time, broke into the home of a local dealer who had fallen behind in his payments, pistol-whipped the dealer's girlfriend, then forced her to perform oral sex on a fellow gang member.

Camou was the youngest of the 20 gang members charged with various multiple felonies in the Operation Taxation roundup, two of whom were felons in their mid-30s suspected to be members of the Mexican Mafia. He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in exchange for the rape assault being dropped. In May, Camou penned a letter from Madison Street Jail to the judge who would sentence him a week later.

My mother has always raised me and my grandmother helped. My father has always been in prison so therefore I really never had anyone to keep me in line. Sure I had uncles but they were always on the streets always drugged out of their minds or were in and out of prison and if anything they were always telling me that when I get older I'm going to be from a gang. They would tell me "You're Baby Bullet" from 9th Street because my dad was "Bullet."

As I started getting older they would mention it more and more. When I started Junior High school my older cousins would talk about when they were going to jump me in. Pretty soon I was in high school and it happened. I got jumped into the family gang. Everyone was calling me "Little Bullet" and saying I was no baby anymore. I was only 16 and grown men would come up to me and show me respect. I mean, sure, it felt good when I was younger to run around doing stupid things like getting high and gang banging, but look where it has gotten me. I'm sitting here in a dirty old cell writing to you hoping that you will show mercy to me.

Camou got his wish. He was sentenced to five years probation, plus the 113 days he had already spent in jail.

Police arrested the Ninth Street veterano believed to be Camou's commander in the same Operation Taxation sweep. According to the charges, then 31-year-old Ruben "Little Moco" Moquino broke into the home of a local drug dealer and fence, threatened to cut off his nose with a pair of scissors, stabbed him three times in the legs, then stole a VCR, mountain bike and stereo equipment. Three days later, when police showed up to the victim's home to offer him witness protection, they found Moquino standing in his front doorway, yelling threats.

Moquino also received probation, then was arrested again following a newer lengthy investigation of the Ninth Street Gang by Phoenix Police and the FBI, which this time resulted in 41 indictments. This most recent investigation determined that Moquino and veteranos of the non-Carbajal Ninth Street Faction with ties to the Mexican Mafia reunited the old gang in the name of more cost-effective business.

Such peacemaking efforts are not unusual, says the DEA's Molesa.

"More and more, we're seeing bangers put aside their personal differences under the umbrella of drug profits. The older ones are telling the young guys to cut out that 'Don't dis my set' stuff because it interferes with making money."

In September, the DEA and the Arizona Gang Task Force arrested 24 members of a drug ring allegedly involving five street gangs, two from Tucson and two from Los Angeles, who collectively sold up to six pounds of cocaine a week to users and dealers in Tucson. Investigative reports say the L.A. gangs originally dispatched members to Arizona to buy cocaine in bulk, then moved them here permanently to help set up the drug ring in Tucson and send profits back to California. According to DEA reports, the gang members laundered money through a hip-hop clothing store that served as their base of operations.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse