LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two reputed gang members pleaded not guilty to hate crimes that allege they beat up black youths and tried to force an African-American family out of a neighborhood through a campaign of harassment, federal prosecutors announced Friday.
Jeffrey Aguilar, 19, and Efren Marquez Jr., 21, entered their pleas Friday after being indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday. They are each charged with five counts of interfering with housing rights and conspiracy and could face up to 10 years in prison for each count if convicted, said a statement from the U.S. attorney's office.
Both remained in federal custody and have been ordered held without bond. It was not immediately clear if they had attorneys.
"Hate-fueled crimes have no place in our society," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement. "No one should have to look over their shoulder in fear because of who they are."
Authorities said Aguilar and Marquez belong to a Latino street gang called Compton Varrio 155 that has attacked black residents and scrawled graffiti on homes, businesses and churches, according to the indictment.
Compton, a southern Los Angeles suburb of 97,000, was mostly black for decades but now has a 65 percent majority Latino population, while about 33 percent of its population is black, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Prosecutors contend that in two attacks on Dec. 31, Aguilar, Marquez and other gang members chased and hit a black teenager with a glass bottle and beat another with a metal pipe.
Another attack involved a black family that had just moved into the gang's westside territory. Authorities contend that 15 gang members gathered outside, threw a beer bottle through the living room window, yelled racial slurs and shouted, "You don't belong here."
The family, which includes a mother, three teenagers and a 10-year-old boy, moved into the home over Christmas vacation and had no gang ties, authorities said.
The mother sent the children to live with relatives and planned to leave herself, the Los Angeles Times reported last month.
"This gang has always made it clear they have a racial hatred for black people," Los Angeles County sheriff's Lt. Richard Westin told the Times. "They justify in their own sick minds because of their rivalry with the Compton black gangs."
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