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Maria Leon
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Maria Leon – Notorious L.A. Gang Leader

By James Donahue

In the 1980s a gang of crack cocaine dealers emerged among a Mexican immigrant family headed by Maria "La Chata" Leon in a Los Angeles housing project located on Drew Street.

The Drew Street gang, comprised mostly of Leon and her children, soon expanded their operations from drugs into extortion, gun trafficking and the smuggling of illegal immigrants who worked off their debt to the gang by selling crack. It developed into a deadly and malicious gang operation, considered one of the most notorious to have ever existed in L.A.

L.A. crime reporter Christine Pelisek once described the enterprise: "Maria Leon sat like the queen spider in a web spun across the border from north to south – head of a massive criminal enterprise of drug-dealing and murder."

Leon had 13 children with four different men. By the early 2000s six of the sons, Francisco "Pancho" Real, Nicolas Real, Jose Leon, Danny Leon, Randy Martinez and Jesus Martinez formed the nucleus of the gang. Also involved were cousins and members of the Tlalchapan families. They ran their operations from the apartment building, which became their fortress known among locals and the police as the Satellite House because a large satellite TV dish was mounted prominently in the driveway.

The family became linked to the Mexican Mafia. There were shootings, gang wars and so much trouble that police drove dual cars when patrolling Drew Street.

The Leon family was finally brought down in June, 2008 after Danny Leon was killed in a dramatic street shootout with the L.A. police. The gunfire was so intense it closed down schools and dozens of streets were blocked.

After that incident, the LAPD, backed by a RICO indictment, swept the neighborhood of 70 gang members. A strong police effort eventually led to the indictment of another 88 gang members.

As a final move, the Los Angeles City Attorney got a court order declaring the Satellite House a public nuisance. The building was demolished and the city turned the property into a community garden.

Maria Leon and several of her children are currently serving terms in prison with the other gang members. That neighborhood is finally quiet.