LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Nearly two dozen MS-13 gang members and associates were arraigned Tuesday after being indicted on charges of operating an extortion ring targeting food truck owners in Hollywood.

Five indictments, returned Jan. 28 and unsealed Tuesday, charged 25 individuals, five of whom have not yet been arraigned. The indictments were the culmination of a yearlong investigation dubbed “Protecting the Dream,” conducted by the Los Angeles Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement agencies.

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“This is an area that has been plagued by Mara Salvatrucha 13 gang members for at least four decades and for us to make some type of an impact in this area is absolutely significant,” LAPD Capt. Beatrice Girmala said.

The reputed gang members have been accused of targeting catering trucks at catering job sites, shaking down owners and operators since July 2007, demanding “rent” and free food.

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“They said, um, you know, ‘give us at least $100 every week, and then we’ll give you protection.’ And they also said they’ll come here and eat for free,” said a food truck operator whose face was not shown for her protection.

In at least one instance, a defendant threatened to kill a food truck operator and his employees if he did not pay the “rent” money, according to the indictments.

All of the named defendants, who were arrested Friday morning, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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