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Like Sigliuzzo, Gallo insists the Mickey Mouse Mafia had nothing to do with Avila’s murder. “The mob always kills the same way,” he argues. “They get some younger guys that want to come up [in the mafia], and these guys lure you somewhere and shoot you.” Besides, he adds, Avila was on good terms with the mob. Instead, what killed Avila was his deep involvement with the Colombians, he claims. According to Gallo, Avila was highly valued by the Colombian cartels not only because he spoke Spanish, but also because he was tight with all the white drug dealers and society people in Orange County.

“He surfed, he traveled, he had restaurants, and he knew everyone in Newport Beach,” Gallo says. Among Avila’s friends was John Gale, a rich kid from Newport Beach who in the 1960s became one of the biggest drug dealers affiliated with the Laguna Beach-based Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a group of hippie hash smugglers who befriended Timothy Leary and sought to turn on the entire world through their trademark acid, Orange Sunshine, before a task force of local cops and federal drug agents arrested dozens of members and sent the rest scurrying underground in 1973.

The Great Contender: Kenji Gallo at an undisclosed location in coastal OC.
John Gilhooley
The Great Contender: Kenji Gallo at an undisclosed location in coastal OC.
Kenji Gallo's book claims to solve one of OC’s most mysterious murders
Kenji Gallo's book claims to solve one of OC’s most mysterious murders

Gale spent a year in prison but quickly went back to drug dealing, and by the late 1970s, he’d become an extremely successful coke broker. His career ended on June 22, 1982, when the Mercedes he’d borrowed from his friend Mike Hynson, the surfer of Endless Summer fame, rolled off the road during what police figured was a high-speed chase by parties unknown. Although eyewitnesses said Gale had just left a Dana Point bar with a suitcase full of cash, none was found at the scene of the crash. Police classified his death as an accident, but it is widely believed among both cops and Gale’s former associates to be the result of foul play, possibly the work of Colombians or the mob.

Another of Avila’s American affiliates was Michael Patrick Marvich, or “Big Mike,” a former paralegal for the law firm of George Chula, which represented Leary and various members of the Brotherhood in their endless Orange County Superior Court appearances in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For those unfamiliar with the true nature of Chula’s services, Marvich would seem an unlikely employee: His rap sheet included numerous felonies dating back to at least 1948, when he was convicted and sent to prison for robbing a bank in Oakland.

According to one former Brotherhood source, Chula met Marvich when he defended him in a murder case and succeeded in getting the charges dismissed. After joining Chula’s firm, Marvich would use the attorney-client privilege to share information with Brotherhood members, even going so far as to serve as a middleman between Mexican marijuana smugglers and the Laguna Beach-based Brotherhood dealers. Every week, the Brotherhood’s Mexican suppliers would drive a car full of weed through the San Ysidro checkpoint and leave it somewhere in San Diego, ready for pickup, and Marvich was the only person north of the border who would know its exact location. “It got to the point where we didn’t do anything but wait for a call from Chula’s office and go pick up the car in a parking lot somewhere,” the source said.

By the 1980s, Marvich, now a septuagenarian, had moved on to the much-more-lucrative cocaine-smuggling business, and, according to Gallo, he had Colombian-cartel connections that rivaled Avila’s. He also had a reputation as a sinister crime lord. “Mike was the guy,” Gallo recalls. “Everyone used to say he was the biggest and baddest. He was a snake—an evil fucking guy.” Gallo claims Marvich had no qualms about ripping off fellow drug dealers, and then telling the Colombians that his victims had either lost or stolen the coke in question, with the predictable body count that followed.

In 1985, something happened that Gallo insists has everything to do with Avila’s murder two years later. On March 29, Marvich’s 38-year-old girlfriend, Catherine Lawrence, died of a gunshot wound to the head at Marvich’s Costa Mesa house. Police ruled the shooting a suicide, and other than a few needle marks and one small bruise, the coroner’s report provides no evidence of any struggle or foul play. But Gallo insists that Marvich murdered her in her sleep because she had loaned $200,000 to Avila to help him open the nightclub above Setoya. Furthermore, Gallo claims, Marvich suspected her of having an affair with Avila, even going so far as to hire an investigator to spy on her.

Avila’s supposed debt to Marvich still hadn’t been repaid two years later when Avila died. Shortly after the murder, Gallo claims that Marvich, who knew Gallo was close to Avila, summoned him for an important errand: send a message to Avila’s family. “You tell Sal he already lost one brother, and I want that money,” Marvich reportedly barked.

“The way he was looking at me, the way he said it, I knew he killed him,” Gallo says. Marvich died of natural causes on Jan. 2, 1999, so he’s unable to respond to Gallo’s claim that he murdered Avila over an unpaid debt. Court records show, however, that on Nov. 14, 1989, Marvich filed a civil suit against a surviving Avila family member. The case never reached a courtroom, and it’s unclear how much cash Marvich hoped to win because the case file has been destroyed. But Gallo, who became an FBI informant in the mid-1990s after leaving the coke business to work as a producer of pornographic films—he even married porn actress Tabitha Stevens—claims Avila’s murder could have been solved years ago but was hindered by the fact that Marvich was also an FBI informant.

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