Wednesday, February 28, 2007

LA Weekly - The Town the Law Forgot
Seven pages of hell.

Here, an excerpt:

Cudahy resembles a Mexican border town more than it does a Los Angeles suburb. Entrenched gangs and Mexican drug trafficking have trapped working-class legal and illegal immigrants in a cycle of violence and fear, in a city where less than a quarter of the 28,000 residents are eligible to vote. An uneducated city council, a deeply troubled police force imported from Maywood two towns over, and the raw power of the 18th Street Gang — a complex criminal organization with a knack for setting up business fronts and obscuring underground drug activity — make Cudahy residents seem like hostages in their own city.

By most accounts, Cudahy City Council members — two retired union managers, an insurance salesman, a waitress and a grocer — do not run the city as they were elected to do. Rather, they defer to City Manager Perez, a former janitor who is known to favor revenue traps such as DUI and driver’s license checkpoints over aggressive tactics that make gangs and drug dealers less comfortable.

In 2001, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office convened a grand jury to investigate whether Perez violated criminal conflict-of-interest laws. The probe stemmed from his actions as a city councilman, when, after voting for an ordinance that lifted a one-year waiting period between holding political office and appointed office, Perez stepped down from the council and was promptly appointed city manager, the city’s highest-paying job. According to prosecutors’ memos and letters obtained by the L.A. Weekly, the D.A.’s office was forced to drop the investigation after concluding that it “could not prove a criminal violation” of state laws “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Known as a ruthless political boss, Perez is not running for city council in the upcoming March 6 election, but he is deserving of scrutiny. After all, he calls the shots in Cudahy.

Perez shrugs at allegations of foul play on the campaign trail, or any possibility that his minions could be involved. “I’ve talked with Mendoza,” he says of death threats that knocked the would-be candidate out of the running. “He apologized for talking bad about me.”

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