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LAPD CLOSING IN ON ASIAN GANG : NIGHTS OF TERROR RESULTED IN 80 CRIMES, RANGING FROM MURDER TO EXTORTION.

Byline: Jeannette DeSantis Daily News Staff Writer

Impeccably dressed in a tailored suit, Rosario Hernandez Dones is the picture of a polished young career woman.

She is mother to a 3-year-old boy. She works as a dental assistant.

But police say her husband is a stone-cold killer who murdered three people and tried to kill eight others. And they also say she might have helped him.

It is a charge that the 24-year-old Santa Clarita Valley woman denies strenuously.

After all, she said, the 22-year-old Sothi Menh is a dedicated family man whose first priority is to her and their son. Menh spent his youth working hard at his parents' garment factory, and she said now he is an international importer-exporter.

``My husband is a good man. I have never witnessed any violence with him. If I did, I would go crazy,'' Dones said.

Police, search warrants and other court records paint a vastly different picture of Menh and Dones.

They say they suspect that Dones' husband is a flamboyant leader of the San Fernando Valley's most violent Asian gang, and he is on the run from the law.

They also say that Dones is a gang member and is under investigation for her possible connection to the murders.

Dones denies that she or Menh have ever belonged to a gang, although she said they know some of the other men arrested for the murders.

``My husband was hanging around the wrong crowd, OK, but he doesn't anymore,'' Dones said.

Menh is in Cambodia now conducting business, she said. ``He did not go to Cambodia to hide from police, he is just sick and tired of the police harassing us. They would follow us everywhere we would go.''

Police said their intent has not been to harass Menh but to build their case against him and his acquaintances. They say they have been watching the men for more than a year - and with good reason.

A gang behind bars

Six of Menh's acquaintances already are in custody in Los Angeles and charged with six murders - including a triple slaying in El Monte and a double homicide in Van Nuys.

Investigators estimate that the gang has 100 members with strongholds in the Valley, Northern California, Texas and Massachusetts. Members come primarily from the Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Some are newly arrived refugees like Menh who work alongside their parents in small businesses, while others are second-generation Americans who attend college.

A Cal State Northridge business major is among the 33 adults and 29 juveniles who have been arrested across California and tied to crimes ranging from murder to extortion. That college student is Sam Chan, 25, who is on trial in Sacramento for a home-invasion robbery along with two juvenile members.

Police say former Van Nuys resident Marvin Aclaro Mercado, 23, is another of the more affluent, educated gang members. Known as ``Shy Boy'' on the streets, police say this college student's extracurricular activities included murder.

The 23-year-old Mercado was attending a community college in Taft, a small town near San Jose, before he fled in June 1996. Police know little about Mercado but said from all appearances, he was a good student who graduated from Van Nuys High School and would help his mother out at her tax business occasionally.

Mercado and Menh are just two of the gang members responsible for what police say are 80 crimes, ranging from murder to extortion, half of which have resulted in criminal charges so far.

Architect of terror

It is Menh, however, who police say was one of the architects of terror.

Known in his gang as ``Player No. 1,'' police say Menh is notorious for hitting the town with gaudy cars, loaded guns and sometimes walkie-talkies to communicate with his associates.

Even a bystander's dirty look can provoke Menh to shoot, police said.

``Most Asian gangs are very calculating and not prone to highly emotional acts of violence,'' said Detective Mel Arnold, who heads up the Los Angeles Police Department's Asian Gang Task Force in Van Nuys. ``But these murders are almost random. There is no reason for them and nothing to gain from it other than a show of power.''

While police say the gang has no turf, members keep their pockets full of cash by extorting money from almost exclusively Asian businesses in the Valley and Long Beach.

The hard-core members stay at ``crash pads'' in Van Nuys, Sylmar, Glendale, Mission Hills and Reseda, police said. They can be identified easily by large tattoos of dragons that cover their entire backs.

Menh has one, his wife said.

Double drive-by

The gang specializes in what police call the ``double drive-by,'' in which members use two cars.

Their alleged crimes date back to April 1995, when police said several members of the gang caught two rivals from a Latino gang off-guard, and killed them at Valerio Gardens apartment complex.

That summer, Rogelio Ferman, 24, was ambushed by the gang as he stopped at a red light at the junction of Winnetka Avenue and Saticoy Street, police said.

The West Hills man and his passenger got into a staring match with members of the gang. Soon menacing words were traded and then gunfire.

Ferman sped down Winnetka at 80 mph as gang members in two cars gave chase and continued to fire their semiautomatic handguns at Ferman.

Injured, Ferman smashed his car into a light pole near Roscoe Boulevard. Witnesses said one of the cars pulled up, two Asian men got out, walked up to the crumpled car and fired several more shots at Ferman's head and chest, killing him.

His passenger survived.

Just a half-hour earlier, police said the same gang members had chased and shot at three other men in Panorama City. One man was partially paralyzed.

Police said it was another night of terror for the gan`g.

``They committed one murder and 10 attempted murders in less than an hour,'' Arnold said.

A month later, police said the gang killed three rival Asian gang members and wounded a fourth on the San Bernardino Freeway in El Monte. They allegedly waited for their victims to leave The Windsor Cafe in El Monte, then ambushed them as they entered the freeway.

An FBI task force in Long Beach also is investigating the gang for racketeering charges, which include extortions and arsons, according to authorities.

But the agents will have to wait until LAPD's Asian Gang Task Force is through investigating Los Angeles crimes.

They include the August 1995 murder of Oscar Palis of Arleta, who was days short of his 18th birthday when he was shot and killed on his way home from a local arcade in Mission Hills.

And the September 1995 execution- style slaying of John Gregory, 27, killed at his Reseda home by three trench-coated attackers who concealed their faces with scarves.

The last murder the gang is being investigated for is the murder of one of their own. Gang member Cu Duong, 24, was shot in the head in March 1996, just days before he was to testify against his comrades in another murder case.

``This gang is by far the most violent we have seen,'' Arnold said. ``There will definitely be more charges to come.''

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

PHOTO (1) Marvin Aclaro Mercado

Known as `Shy Boy'

(2) Sothi Menh

Believed in Cambodia
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 7, 1997
Words:1229
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