"Sam Quinones' July 28 article—6 + 4 = 1 Tenuous Existence: An illegal immigrant couple with six children were already living in poverty. Then the quadruplets arrived. They're still in a daze—just might be the best in the rather dull history of the Los Angeles Times."Now, Quinones [Send him mail] has a new article in the L.A. Times—A familial mean street: Networks of relatives have bred crime on once-peaceful Drew Street, police say—that's worthy of comparison. Once again, Quinones demonstrates that you can't understand immigration, crime, poverty, or the world in general without thinking hard about extended family ties. Who is related to whom?
In Southern California, wealthy people live in or near the hills, while poor people live on the endless flat lands. So it was a matter of some surprise to many Angelenos last February 21 when a running gun battle between cops and gangbangers armed in a style worthy of a big budget action movie broke out just north of Downtown LA between Dodger Stadium and the beautiful Forest Lawn cemetery (the setting for Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One.)
Quinones explains the extended family relations that have made Glassell Park, despite its seemingly prime location, one of the smallest but nastiest slums in America. He focuses on "Mama" Leon, the mother of a gang-banger who was killed by cops in February for firing his AK-47 automatic rifle at them:
"An illegal immigrant and mother of 13, [Maria] Leon has a lengthy arrest record and three convictions for drug-related crimes—for which she's served no prison time, according to court documents. …
"Police said Leon, 44, and her extended family were deeply involved in the drug trade that has made Drew Street among L.A.'s most notorious."As I've long argued, the most overlooked factor in better understanding a host of hot-button issues, such as race, crime, immigration, even the chaos in Iraq, are family ties. Who one's relatives are turns out to have endless ramifications that are mostly ignored by the media.
Those of us who come from law-abiding backgrounds in which nuclear families get together with their extended family relatives mostly just on holidays have a hard time imagining ourselves in situations where we can't call 911, where we've done something so wrong that the only people we can turn to are our mafia of relatives.
Still, people in those situations create most of the news in this world. Quinones is one of the few reporters who gets it:
"The Leons—and members of several other immigrant families on Drew Street whom authorities have charged with criminal acts—hail from the town of Tlalchapa in the state of Guerrero, which has a reputation as one of Mexico's most violent regions. Police estimate that dozens of members of these extended families belong to the Avenues gang.There's a reason why organized crime families tend to be based around real families:
"'It's been a safety net for them to rely on each other—brothers, cousins and all,' said LAPD Lt. Robert Lopez. 'The likelihood of someone within your family ratting you out is really low.'"When you hear somebody claim that the high rate of minorities in prison for drug possession proves the system is biased against them, just remember that Al Capone went to prison for tax evasion:
"Finding a witness to testify is almost impossible, police said. So gang members are rarely charged with violent felonies. Without witnesses, police must rely on cases they can make themselves, usually for narcotics possession."Physical evidence can't be intimidated, so a lot of the perpetrators of unsolved violent crimes are cooling their heels in prison on drug possession charges.
But landlords can be intimidated:
"Police task forces, gang sweeps, arrests—even a 2002 gang injunction—have done little to break the bonds of family and culture that breed criminal activity on Drew Street, officials said. …
"The city said that 'I'm not supposed to have gangs out in the yard' in front of the apartment building, according to one landlord who requested anonymity, fearing reprisal. 'I'm the one who is supposed to go and chase them out? I don't think so.'"The relationship between immigration, blood ties, and gangs are deep-rooted:
"Drew Street's Tlalchapa contingent began arriving in the 1970s, some of them lured by the promise of jobs at the Van de Kamp canned-food factory a few blocks away, residents and former factory workers said. "'We created a little Guerrero up there,' said Robesbier Aguirre, who worked as foreman at the now-shuttered plant…
"Poverty sent many Tlalchapans to the U.S. looking for work. But so did the violence stemming from the local drug trade and deadly family feuds, authorities and former residents said. … But as their numbers grew, the area's white residents began selling to developers, he said.The neighborhood became what the media call "vibrant:"
"The number of apartment buildings doubled. City records show that from 1984 to 1992, builders razed 30 houses and erected apartment complexes in their place—adding 480 units to the tiny neighborhood, which sits between the Glendale Freeway and Forest Lawn Memorial-Park.
"Living conditions began to resemble those of many public housing projects, as poor people crowded in. The long, tall apartment buildings were hard for police to patrol and easy for criminals to hide in.
"Tlalchapans moved into many of the new apartments, said former Drew Street residents. As they did, neighbors said, fights, parties and heavy drinking became more common. Minor disputes escalated into gunplay.
"'There wasn't a weekend you didn't hear gunshots in the air,' said one neighbor, who bought a house on the block more than 20 years ago."As always, the varieties of family structure plays a key role in determining the nature of the culture:
"Over the years, Leon had 13 children with five men, according to court records. Several of her sons are documented gang members, according to police. One of Leon's sons, Daniel, was killed last month in the shootout on Drew Street after allegedly firing an AK-47 at officers.
"The close family ties on Drew Street, along with the poverty and overcrowding, have made it difficult for police to penetrate, authorities said. Police report having seen lookouts standing atop apartment buildings, watching for cops or rival gang members, ready to whistle or chirp their Nextels in warning."The criminal justice system is ill-equipped to dispense justice to immigrant criminals:
"Maria Leon pleaded guilty to child endangerment and possession of an assault weapon and was sentenced to six years and eight months for child endangerment. She was given credit for 259 days served and turned over to federal immigration authorities in May 2003. She was deemed a 'deportable alien,' but it's unclear if she was deported. A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment on her case, citing privacy laws."There are lots more where Mama Leon came from, and the little Leons are doing their share to make Drew St. even more vibrant:
"One of Leon's sons, Francisco Real, was convicted in 2002 of immigrant smuggling, according to court records. Three other convicted drug dealers with close ties to the Leons also have been arrested on suspicion of immigrant smuggling, authorities said."Spending money on the neighborhood hasn't helped:
"Other government efforts to crack down on criminal activity on Drew Street have been frustrated. In 2002, the city built Juntos Park on the street; the park, which cost $6 million, has since become another spot for drug dealing, neighbors said.
"Last year, the city installed surveillance cameras without bulletproof glass. Gang members shot them out the first night. "Now we have to put in cameras to monitor the installation of cameras," Garcetti said."Unfortunately, in contrast to Quinones's reporting, most of the press consistently forgets to check into the family connections behind so many of lurid news stories it claims to cover, even though the Internet has made it easy.
For instance, consider a current scandal from much higher up the economic scale than Mama Leon. On March 27, 2008, the New York Times ran a long article entitled Supplier Under Scrutiny on Arms for Afghans by C.J. Chivers about a 22-year-old Miami Beach high school dropout named Efraim Diveroli, who is officially the CEO of AEY Inc. This two man firm recently was awarded $300 million in Pentagon contracts to supply ammunition to the embattled Afghan government.
Not surprisingly, some of the ammo turned out to be illegal Chinese goods and much was of doubtful quality. The contract has been cancelled and he's been charged with fraud. Being "out of the country," though, he hasn't been arraigned yet.
This story has been all over the press, with Google News reporting 1,866 news reports on AEY. And there's been much random speculation on the blogs about who could be behind this scandal:
Surely, a 22-year-old couldn't pull off such a scam! Dick Cheney and/or Karl Rove must be behind it!Nevertheless, after four days, the press hasn't yet scratched the surface of who else is in young Diveroli's fascinating family. Once you spend a few hours on Google checking into the nature of Diveroli's extended family, the case becomes less baffling.
For example, the budding international arms merchant's mom, Miami Beach mother-of-five Ateret Diveroli, was once treasurer of a dubious children's charity named "Time for Kids" that collected (but failed to disburse) hundreds of thousands of dollars in the name of … Michael Jackson!
The business connection between the disgraced King of Pop and Efraim's mom is her brother (and Efraim's uncle) Shmuley Boteach, whom Slate.com called "one of the world's most prominent rabbis." The relentlessly self-promoting Shmuley was the "spiritual advisor" to Jackson and numerous other celebrities.
Shmuley is now host of the TLC network reality television show Shalom in the Home when he's not debating Christopher Hitchens on the existence of God. (As of press time, God had no comment on either Shmuley, Hitch, or Jacko.)
Roger Friedman reported on FoxNews in 2001 that Shmuley's British charity went out of business after a scathing report by the British Charity Commission:
"The inquiry established that a number of apparent inappropriate payments were regularly being made by the founder of the charity, Rabbi Boteach and his wife."The father of Shmuley and grandfather of Efraim is Yoav Botach, who was recently threatened with a huge (and hilarious) palimony suit:
"Makeup artist to the stars Judith Boteach thought she had found true love when it took four people to carry all of the flowers and jewelry lavished on her the day multimillionaire Yoav Botach proposed marriage.
"Boteach said she learned a month after their Orthodox Jewish wedding ceremony that her groom hadn't obtained a California marriage license…
" 'This is the largest palimony case in American history,' said Robert W. Hirsh, Boteach's attorney, who explained that his client cannot fight for alimony since she and Botach were never legally married.
"According to court records, Botach co-owns 144 commercial and other properties in Los Angeles, as well as Botach Tactical, a nationwide distributor of police and military equipment. But Boteach is seeking access to financial documents to determine the defendant's assets. 'We would not be surprised if his net worth is $700 million,' Hirsh said.(I don't know why some members of the family spell the name "Botach" and others "Boteach.")
The only one of Efraim's extended family ties that the NYT deigned tomention was that Efraim's training for his $300 million business came as a salesman at the Los Angeles weapons shop managed by his uncle Bar-Kochba Botach. Yet, the lengthy NYT investigative report failed to mention Botach Tactical's notorious reputation as possibly the world's most customer-hostile merchant. Nor did it reveal that Congresswoman Maxine Waters has been trying to throw the gun shop out of the violence-afflicted South Central LA community. (By the way, Uncle Bar-Kochba claims to be Israeli.)
For your convenient edification, I've collected details on the whole clan here.
Nor have many noticed that the extended family's various arms dealing companies are registered in federal databases as "minority-owned" and/or ethnically "disadvantaged." It turns out that the federal government declared Hasidic Jews to be a disadvantaged minority for purposes of minority business encouragement in 1984I
But is the Botach / Diveroli extended family actually Hasidic? To qualify for affirmative action, it's not enough to be Orthodox; apparently, you are supposed to wear the Hasidic hat and beard. Yet, in young Efraim's two mugshots (for assaulting a parking valet and for drunk driving in his Mercedes), he has just a little Miami Vice stubble. Similarly, the only known photo of Efraim's grandfather Yoav (as seen here listening to his son Shmuley orate at a fatherhood awards banquet) shows him clean-shaven.
As Barack Obama might say, in large part the AEY scandal is "A Story of Race and Inheritance."
Of course, he wouldn't say it in public, and neither will the MainStream Media.
But the world becomes much less perplexing when we stop being oblivious to the obvious.