GANG SUSPECT RETURNED; MAN SOUGHT IN ASIAN BOYS CASE IN CUSTODY.
Surrounded by LAPD officers and federal agents, the suspected ringleader of a San Fernando Valley street gang stepped off a jet at LAX and into police custody, authorities said Friday.
Sothi Menh, 22, reputed mastermind of the Southland's Asian Boys gang, was retrieved from Thailand and returned in handcuffs and shackles Thursday night. Menh has been arrested on suspicion of multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.
Thai authorities were only too happy to turn him over to the San Fernando Valley detectives.
``They don't want him there,'' said Detective Mel Arnold, who heads the Asian Gang Task Force. ``Menh had all these warrants from the United States. He was a fugitive, and they didn't want him.''
All counts stem from a series of gang-related murders tied to the notorious street gang, which has been terrorizing the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys since 1995.
Now only one gang suspect, 23-year-old Marvin Mercado, remains on the task force's most-wanted list. For now, they're just waiting for that tip that will lead them to Mercado.
Authorities believe more than 300 members fill the ranks of the Asian Boys, composed of Southeast Asian refugees as well as second- and third-generation Americans who have ancestral ties to the area.
Police believe Menh fled to Bangkok in January, but he found no refuge there. As a young boy, Menh originally had fled Southeast Asia for a better life in America, police said.
Rosario Hernandez Dones, Menh's wife, has described him as a dedicated family man who made a living as an importer-exporter.
To maintain a facade of respectability, Menh and his associates attended college or posed as legitimate businessmen, police said. But in reality, they added, the gang exemplifies the most violence-prone group with the least conscience.
Preying mostly on other Asians, the members not only specialized in drive-by shootings, but relished picking fights, often with rival gangs but sometimes with complete innocents.
Members are accused of binding an 84-year-old Filipino woman with duct tape during a home-invasion robbery in the Valley, and again using duct tape to immobilize a baby in Sacramento.
In June, Arnold and his task force arrested five of Menh's associates suspected of a killing spree that claimed the lives of seven people in the spring and summer of 1995.
Bunthoeun Roeung, 20; David Evangelista, 22; Roatha Buth, 24; Ky Ngo, 21; and Son Bui, 20, each pleaded not guilty June 18 to multiple counts including murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
With the exception of Ngo, all the men have been charged with the special circumstance of committing multiple murders or murder by ambush. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.
In June, Arnold warned that the arrests and indictments were just a sign of things to come.
``This is just the start of a major homicide prosecution and it's far from finished,'' he said. ``We anticipate bringing this to a speedy conclusion.''
Menh is being held in the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail without bail. He is expected to be arraigned Monday.
Photo: (1) Sothi Menh
Reputed Asian Boys leader
(2) Marvin Mercado
Still being sought by police