Thursday, October 16, 2008

Authorities target Eastside gang with major sweep

BY ERIC LINDBERG
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

Local and federal authorities dealt a major blow to Santa Barbara’s Eastside gang with a widespread bust early yesterday morning that netted dozens of arrests, including alleged members of the gang’s leadership, officials announced.
More than 400 officers from 18 separate law enforcement agencies swept through the streets with search and arrest warrants for 28 suspects named in a federal indictment that includes counts of murder, attempted murder, racketeering, conspiracy, drug trafficking and robbery.

“We have made a dent in criminal street gang activities and this is just the beginning, folks,” Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez said. “…We sent a message to the citizens of Santa Barbara. If you are involved in criminal street gang activity, it’s obvious to you today that we will spare no expense to get you.”
In addition to the federal indictment, officials announced that 17 defendants are expected to appear in Superior Court on state charges.
It’s unclear exactly how many people were arrested yesterday, although authorities said officers took nine suspects named in the indictment into custody, while 17 were already being held on other charges.
Police said two suspects remained at large during a press conference yesterday morning.
“Pretty sad-looking faces,” Chief Sanchez said, describing those arrested during the sweep. “They looked pretty shocked.”
He said officers targeted older alleged members of the gang — preliminary reports indicate few, if any, were juveniles. Chief Sanchez referred to many of the suspects as “shot callers,” or alleged leaders of the gang.
U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien said the indictment marks the first federal racketeering charges filed on the Central Coast. The 19 suspects named under the Racketeer Influence Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) face a minimum of 20 years in prison, he said.
With gang and violence enhancements, nine are facing life in prison without parole, O’Brien added.
“The only way to effectively address the gang problem is to bring all levels of government together to crack down on criminal street gangs,” he said.
The federal indictment delves into the culture of the Eastside street gang, which authorities said is broken into four sub-groups that include more than 150 members in total. Some of those members, according to the indictment, are as young as 11 years old.
Federal authorities allege members of the gang frequently engaged in “cruising,” or arming themselves with knives, bats and pipes before driving in groups into Westside territory to attack rival gang members.
In addition to alleging that the gang is responsible for the high-profile murders of two rival gang members last year, the indictment states that gang members attempted to kill six other victims.
While not planned, the arrests came hours before the verdict returned in the murder trial of Ricardo “Ricky Juarez, an Eastside gang member found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the May 2007 stabbing death of a 15-year-old boy.
The slaying spawned an outcry from the community for action on the gang crisis. Chief Sanchez said the fact that both events — the verdict and the gang sweep — occurred on the same day is a coincidence, adding that the investigation has been in the works for more than a year.
“It’s all in response to what our community has been saying to me,” he said. “They want us to come down harder.”
The racketeering count alone cites 205 overt acts allegedly committed by members of the gang. Additional allegations include 13 counts of violent crime in aid of racketeering, 14 counts of narcotics distribution, and a handful of counts related to firearms and explosive devices.
The federal indictment also alleges the gang was hostile toward black people and intimidated, threatened and assaulted people as a means to control neighborhood residents, including witnesses who might testify in court against them.
“Some of these gang members are so brazen they have bragged about their crimes and mocked the justice system through rap songs and online postings,” said Daniel McMullen, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office.
Many law enforcement officials who spoke yesterday echoed a common refrain — that this bust is just the first step in fighting street gangs.
“We’re here to stay,” said John Torres, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Los Angeles. “We’re not going anywhere.”
He pointed out that federal prison sentences have mandatory minimums, adding, “If they get eight years, they are going to serve eight years.”
Torres also noted that, if convicted, those indicted will be spending time in federal penitentiaries, not in County Jail where they can associate with fellow gang members.
Officials from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said several suspects arrested are illegal aliens and will be dealt with accordingly.
“We have an unwavering commitment to stand here unified, shoulder to shoulder, and dismantle the violence caused by these criminal street gangs,” said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge of ICE operations in Los Angeles.
Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte, spokesman for the Santa Barbara Police Department, said the arrests — known collectively as Operation Gator Roll — have been a long time coming. He said the name of the operation draws its moniker from a martial arts move that brings opponents to submission by attacking their head.
In terms of any firearms, drugs or other illegal items seized during yesterday morning, Sgt. Duarte said he had little information, adding that much of the evidence was still being logged. More details should be released today, he said.
Agencies participating in Operation Gator Roll include police departments from Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Ventura, Oxnard and Santa Paula; sheriff’s departments from Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties.
Officers and agents from ATF, FBI, ICE, Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, Drug Enforcement Administration, California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, U.S. Marshals Service, County Probation Department, and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation also took part in the gang sweep.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for reporting on the good work of our police force.

Anonymous said...

The raids were way too extreme! All it showed was that our police dept. couldn't handle these gangster's and had to call in for reinforcements! ATF, FBI, US MARSHALS AND THE US ATTORNEY??? Thats a little harsh for a gang still using sticks and stones!!! PATHETIC!!!

Anonymous said...

to the second poster:

are you one of the illegal gang banging losers? if not, then be supportive that the city is actually doing something to rid the town of these cockroaches. and just be impressed that the sanctuary city that Cam allows actually let the feds in to do something. It is a good day for law abiding citizens. lets hope all these losers never see the light of day again.
one more thing, all of these losers should immediately be neutered, so they are no longer allowed to breed more little gang banging losers or anchor babies.

Jean said...

If they don't do something now, it won't be long before the Ventura and Santa Barbara counties look like Los Angeles. Do whatever it takes, but get something done. It might be a good idea to start paying attention to what these kids are learning in schools. The teaching of our young on how to 'hate this country' is something that gets these gang bangers thinking they are right in trying to destroy it. It all starts in our schools.

Anonymous said...

Some seriously unhinged comments here. Trying to defend these thugs is just as ridiculous as attempting to tie their actions into some right-wing delusion about anti-american schoolteachers. This problem has been building for decades but I wouldn't expect reactionaries like 'jean' to acknowledge or even realize that; why would she bother when it can become part of the outrage of the moment?

Both of you need to get real and get lives.