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Guilty plea another blow to La Familia

ATLANTA - One of the last key figures in the Brownside Locos gang to be prosecuted under federal racketeering statutes pleaded guilty Tuesday to involvement in a shootout that left an 18-year-old rival gang member dead.

Israel Talavera, 22, whose street name is "Puppet," will be sentenced at a later date in U.S. District Court Northern District of Georgia on a charge of conspiracy under the federal racketeering statute. He could face a maximum sentence of life in prison, fines of up to $250,000 and deportation because he is an illegal alien.

The indictment of 13 suspected Brownside Locos gang members last year has helped dismantle what once was one of several active, organized and very violent street gangs operating in Gwinnett and metro Atlanta under the umbrella of "La Gran Familia," said Patrick Crosby, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta. Other gangs in La Gran Familia included the Latin Kings, Malditos-13 and Pachucos-21.

The gang had regular meetings to discuss past events and plan future activities, according to the indictment. Members had to pay dues which were used in part to purchase communal guns or bail out Brownside Locos members who were in jail. They also worked to expand their numbers by recruiting from area middle schools, the indictment said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Dammers told a federal judge that gang members often engaged in drive-by shootings, violent assaults, drug dealing and trading illegal firearms to "expand their geographic territories, keep victims in fear and generally increase the bad reputation of the Brownside Locos."

Authorities believe that on Oct. 22, 2002, a quarrel broke out when members of the Brownside Locos and the 18th Street gangs had a run-in at a DeKalb County shopping center. The Brownside Locos members reportedly telephoned some of their other members to come help them.

By the time Talavera and several other men arrived at the shopping center, the 18th Street gang members had already left. The Brownside Locos allegedly began driving around in a van looking for them. A short time later, they spotted a blue Geo Metro that was known to belong to one of the 18th Street gangsters.

The driver of the van chased the car into Gwinnett County, where gunfire erupted between the two vehicles as they traveled on Sugarloaf Parkway. Talavera, a front seat passenger in the van, was one of several men who fired shots, Dammers said.

The driver of the Geo Metro, 18-year-old Aldo Vallejo, was struck and killed, resulting in a multi-vehicle accident on the busy Lawrenceville roadway. The Brownside Locos members fled before police could arrive.

La Gran Familia weakened

For some Gwinnett residents who had felt cocooned from the violence in Atlanta, the shooting in broad daylight and in heavy traffic that day was more undeniable evidence of the expanding presence of gangs here.

Since then, the federal crackdown on La Gran Familia gangs beginning in 2002 has weakened the once-menacing presence of Brownside Locos considerably, said Officer Marco Silva of the Gwinnett County Police Department's Crime Suppression Unit.

"They stood out in their time," Silva said. "While they were out there, they did rival many gangs, and many gangs did fear them to a point. But their crimes were their downfall. Commit the crimes, you're going to fall down sooner or later. And sometimes you fall down hard - real hard."

Upon being arrested Talavera claimed he wasn't there when the shooting happened, Dammers said. Later he recanted the story and admitted what had occurred.

Talavera was one of 13 members of the Brownside Locos gang who were indicted in September 2003 on racketeering charges. Talavera's was the tenth case to be adjudicated.

He agreed on Tuesday to cooperate with investigators in the trials of the last three gang members - Alex Romero, Ruben Flores Hernandez and Carlos Maynard-Reyes. In exchange for his help, federal prosecutors said they will ask a judge for a reduced sentence.