Tuesday, September 6, 2005

A federal law-enforcement initiative aimed at dismantling street gangs and their operations nationwide has accounted for the arrests of more than 1,260 suspected gang members in the past six months, including more than 600 members of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesman Michael E. Keegan said the arrests are part of a continuing enforcement initiative known as “Operation Community Shield,” which began in March in an effort to confront the national problem of violent street gangs.

“The goals of the initiative are to disrupt, dismantle and prosecute violent street gangs by employing the full range of authorities and investigative tools available to ICE,” said Mr. Keegan, adding that under the initiative, ICE is using its criminal and administrative immigration authorities against foreign-born gang members.

He said the agency — working in partnership with other federal, state and local law-enforcement officials — also is using its customs authorities to combat drug trafficking, human smuggling and other crimes. Also, its financial investigative expertise is being used to target the financial infrastructure of the criminal organizations and its illegally derived assets.

As of last week, Mr. Keegan said, Operation Community Shield arrests included 632 MS-13 gang members; 235 members of Surenos-13, also known as SUR-13; 41 18th Street gang members; 32 members of Tortilla Flats; 27 Vatos Locos; 26 Latin Kings; 21 members of the Mexican Posse; 17 Los Pelones; 15 members of Sombra Negra; and 11 Latin Locos. They are considered the nation’s most violent gangs.

Among those arrests were:

• An ICE-led operation in Seattle to arrest of 24 MS-13 members and associates on a range of criminal and immigration charges. Among the 20 foreign nationals and four U.S. citizens taken into custody was Yoni Gonzales, a known MS-13 gang leader in the Seattle area.

• An ICE and FBI raid on members of Riverside Locos, Westside Locos, Mexican Locos, Surenos Hard Times, La Raza and the Pure Latin Crew in Atlanta, during which seven gang members were taken into custody. They all had criminal records ranging from armed robbery and forgery to possession of a controlled substance and stalking.

• Arrests by ICE agents and members of the Memphis/Shelby County, Tenn., Metro Gang Unit of SUR-13 gang member Fidencio Galindo-Romero, 24, a Mexican national with a felony theft conviction. He faces criminal charges for re-entry after deportation and 29 years in prison if convicted.

• The arrests in Georgia of 18 members of SUR-13, charging 14 with being part of a racketeering conspiracy and the others with violent crimes related to racketeering. The indictment said the gang members engaged in murder, attempted murder, carjacking, armed robbery and drug dealing.

The gangs, with as many as 20,000 members active nationally, have targeted civilians, rival gang members and those perceived as traitors. They also have issued directives to kill police officers.

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