FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --A frightening delivery is arriving at Mendota businesses. They've been targeted by an extortion letter from a notorious Central American gang.
Most of the targets are too afraid to even talk about the letters.
"People are very scared and so am I," said one woman who spoke anonymously to Action News in the shadows.
The threatening letter were sent to several businesses. Police say the demands for protection money seem pretty amateurish, but they've put a serious fear into a lot of people.
In the cantaloupe center of the world, on the streets of Mendota, California, business owners are getting a taste of life in Central America. In their mailboxes this month, a demand in Spanish and all caps: Pay up, or else.
"$100 a week from the profits, half of the rent, or they're going to do harm to either their relatives or burn down the business," said the woman in the shadows, one of the few people willing to talk about the threats. Even City Hall had nothing to say.
But police chief Gregg Andreotti says his officers won't be intimidated like police in Central America might be. And he wants business owners to know they're aggressively going after whoever sent the extortion letters.
"We take it very seriously and it's very critical and important to understand that we are going to do what is necessary to try to find out who's responsible, take them into custody, right the wrong that's taking place in the community of Mendota right now," the chief said.
Police have gone from business to business, looking for victims and building trust. They're analyzing the actual letters for potential clues and they brought in immigration
officers, who've made a few arrests, but none so far directly related to the threats.
The one business owner willing to go on the record will settle for nothing less.
"I want them to catch them," she said. "We're in America. We don't do those things here."
Investigators aren't even sure the threats really originate from the gang used in the threats. They say most gangs would extort business owners face-to-face instead of using the mail and leaving a paper trail.