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VLT formed in Glendale in late 1980s

Published August 1, 2010 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Salt Lake County gang detectives say Varrio Loco Town, formed in Salt Lake City's Glendale neighborhood in the late 1980s, is a violent drug gang that includes at least 70 documented members.

The gang began with a few families but has spread along the Salt Lake Valley. While most members are Latino, a few are not — a practice on par with other Utah gangs that don't exclude based on race.

The gang's traditional color is green and its members associate with the number 17, which detectives say has to do with either the gang's origin near 17th Street or its 17 original members. They also use the term "SPIC," which stands for Spanish People In Control.

VLT is considered one of the state's problematic multigenerational gangs, now grooming a third generation.

Jan.15, 1994 • VLT member Jeremy "Worm" Gaitin, 18, is stabbed to death by a rival gang member at a West Valley City party. About 60 people were believed to have been at the party; many didn't cooperate with prosecutors for fear of gang retaliation. Dominique Vigil was ordered to serve up to 15 years in prison for the crime. Several VLT members would commit violent retaliatory crimes in ensuing months.

Feb. 3, 1994 • Anthony Martin Archuleta, 16, fatally shot Roland "Bo" Zahorka during an argument at a Phillips 66 station at 315 E. 3900 South in Salt Lake County. The VLT member claimed he fired in self-defense after the 38-year-old construction worker drove into the parking lot too fast and then started shoving him. A friend of the victim said the confrontation started when Archuleta refused to let Zahorka use the pay phone. Archuleta is slated for parole in 2013.

June 1 through July 1, 1994 • Devin Espinoza, 18, handed the gun to Archuleta before he shot Zahorka. He wasn't charged in the murder, but five months later Espinoza robbed four Salt Lake County businesses, terrorizing young women at gunpoint. He was ordered to serve up to five years in prison.

February 1995 • Fleeing from police trying to arrest him on a warrant, VLT member Gino Joseph Montoya, 22, held 14 people hostage at gunpoint in a South Salt Lake Taco Bell restaurant for three hours before surrendering to police. He was ordered to serve 27 years in prison, but a judge later reduced his sentence by nine years. He is scheduled to appear before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole in 2013. His cousin, Jesse James Montoya, told The Salt Lake Tribune Montoya was traumatized when his 15-year-old brother accidentally shot himself with a .22-caliber handgun three years earlier. Montoya's father and five close relatives were incarcerated at the time of his arrest. Montoya lost a cousin killed in a 1985 fight.

May 17, 1997 • Two VLT gang members shot and killed 16-year-old Kelly Nicholas Seal at a Salt Lake City convenience store at 965 N. Beck St. Russell Frank Thornwall, a 23-year-old VLT member, and friend Pete Victor Montoya started yelling gang-related taunts and threats at the teens before opening fire. Montoya was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. Thornwall died before he could be tried, when he allegedly shot himself during a shootout with police in June 2000.

Aug. 3, 1999 • Matthew Moya, 31, was killed in front of his girlfriend and children by masked gunmen with ties to VLT who barged into his Salt Lake City home to collect a drug debt, according to court records. Steven Ray Finn is serving up to life in prison; co-defendant, Peter Emmanuel Zaragoza, 27, is serving a similar sentence. A third gang member, Angel Joseph Martinez, was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison for being the getaway driver. He had been paralyzed from the waist down in a 1986 shooting that prosecutors said made him the first Utah gang member to fall victim to a drive-by shooting.

June 20, 2000 • VLT members forced their way into a Salt Lake County home, shot the owner in the leg and stole cash, jewelry and guns. Angel Joseph Martinez, 33; Robert Fernando Martinez, 21; Christopher Donald Love, 39; and Richard Joseph Cuellar, 21; would later be arrested and charged with the crime. Cuellar — who says he was not a member of the gang — Robert Martinez and another man, Russell Thornwall, entered the home near 1200 East and 4000 South and forced three children into a bathroom at gunpoint. Love allegedly stood outside and spoke to the gunmen on a portable radio, telling them what to steal. The intruders fled in Angel Martinez's car. Later, police caught up with the five men at Frankie and Johnnie's Tavern, 4800 S. State Street, where Thornwall allegedly jumped out of Angel Martinez's car and traded gunfire with a pair of a Salt Lake County sheriff's deputies. Police said Thornwall, 23, hid behind a nearby building and fatally shot himself in the head. Cuellar and Robert Martinez were ordered to serve five years to life in prison for the crime. Charges against Love were dismissed. Angel Martinez was ordered to serve nine years to life in prison. Investigators at the Utah Gang Conference said some in VLT still believe police shot Thornwall.

Oct. 21, 2007 • Frank Madrid, 37, of South Salt Lake, kills 37-year-old Louis Miera after a gathering at a home near 2600 West and 3300 South in West Valley City. According to court records, Madrid followed his victim and shot him as he sat in a vehicle; witnesses said he had talked about robbing the victim; prosecutors said Madrid was affiliated with VLT. Madrid is serving up to 15 years in prison.

Dec. 14, 2007 • VLT member Jesse James Montoya, 31, died trying to carry out a robbery in a West Valley City home. Montoya and another man forced their way into a home on the 3500 South block of 4400 West, according to police reports. The invaders shot and killed the family's Great Dane dog, taped the homeowner's wife to a chair, and one of the intruders took the homeowner around the house at gunpoint looking for valuables. The homeowner, however, was able to wrest the gun from Montoya and fatally shoot him.

May 19, 2008 • Dani-Rae Montoya, 19, stabbed a 17-year-old pregnant girl near 500 N. 700 West in Salt Lake City, during a dispute over a parking space and left her victim bleeding in the street. Montoya is serving up to five years in prison and was cited by gang investigators at the Utah Gang Conference as a VLT member brought up in the gang.

Sources: Utah Gang Conference, Salt Lake Tribune archives, court records, police reports