Authorities credit new multi-agency task force for record arrests
SALT LAKE CITY - A total of 158 gang members and individuals with gang ties, including many with prior criminal records, are facing new criminal charges or deportation following a four-month, multi-agency anti-gang surge spearheaded by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that represents the largest operation of its kind ever carried out in the state.
The arrests are the result of a coordinated effort by the new ICE-HSI-led Operation Community Shield Task Force (OCSTF) made up of personnel from ICE and five local law enforcement agencies, including the Utah County Major Crimes Task Force, and the police departments of South Salt Lake, Midvale, Ogden and St. George. Utah is one of the first ICE-HSI offices in the nation to establish an OCSTF, along with Dallas, Texas; St. Paul, Minn.; and Charlotte, N.C. The aim of the task forces is to leverage ICE's global reach and broad legal authorities with the unique capabilities of other law enforcement agencies to combat the growth and proliferation of transnational criminal street gangs.
At a news conference Thursday morning, the Utah U.S. Attorney, the Special Agent in Charge for ICE-HSI in the Rocky Mountain region, and representatives from the other agencies participating on the task force detailed the results of the operation that involved criminal and administrative immigration arrests in 23 communities statewide, as well as in neighboring West Wendover, Nev.
"This joint operation brings together local and federal resources to target individuals who are in the country illegally and committing crimes in our communities," U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen said. "The federal cases we are prosecuting as a result of this operation involve individuals who were previously deported and are now back in Utah communities involved in criminal activities. Prosecuting these individuals deters and disrupts gangs and directly and positively impacts the quality of life in our communities. As such, these cases remain a priority for the U.S Attorney's Office."
Of the gang members and gang associates arrested during the enforcement action, 93 are facing prosecution on federal and state criminal charges ranging from solicitation to commit aggravated murder and forcible sexual abuse to drug and firearms violations and re-entry after deportation. A re-entry conviction is a felony that carries a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Individuals currently facing state charges will be referred for federal immigration charges once the state charges are resolved.
"The record number of arrests during this anti-gang operation is a direct result of the teamwork by the newly established task force and the extraordinary support we received from the numerous other law enforcement agencies involved," said Kumar Kibble, special agent in charge of ICE-HSI in the Rocky Mountain region. "This effort shows our collective resolve in Utah to attack and dismantle these dangerous criminal organizations. For too long, street gangs here and elsewhere have used violence and intimidation to hold communities hostage - as this operation shows, now it's the gang members who have something to fear."
Among the gang members facing federal criminal charges is a 28-year-old documented member of the Surenos-Alley Boys street gang who was previously deported to Mexico in March 2006. Jose Daniel Gil-Velasco was taken into custody by ICE-HSI agents in Provo, Utah, on Aug. 6. Gil-Velasco has a lengthy criminal record, including prior convictions for aggravated assault (two counts), carrying a concealed dangerous weapon and attempted theft. Gil is charged federally with re-entry after deportation.
Also facing re-entry after deportation charges is Juan Menchaca-Poban, 26, a member of the Toonersville Rifa 13 street gang, whose criminal history includes prior arrests for retail theft and drug possession, as well as a felony conviction for distributing a controlled substance. Menchaca-Poban was taken into custody by the Salt Lake Metro Gang Unit and ICE-HSI agents in Salt Lake City on June 3. At the time of his arrest, Menchaca-Poban was wanted on an outstanding state criminal warrant for narcotics distribution. Upon completion of his state sentence, Menchaca-Poban will be presented for federal prosecution for felony re-entry after deportation.
Of the 158 gang members and gang associates arrested during the operation, 125 are foreign nationals from the following five countries: Argentina, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Peru. The group includes 31 individuals who have been previously deported from the United States. The foreign nationals who are not being prosecuted on criminal charges are being processed for removal. A number of them have already been deported to their native countries.
The enforcement action focused on individuals with ties to more than 50 street gangs in four of the state's major metropolitan areas: Salt Lake City, Provo, Ogden and St. George. The operation commenced in the Salt Lake City area in early April and culminated last week with arrests in and around Provo, Utah. Below is a break down of the arrests by community.
In addition to the members of the Community Shield Task Force, numerous other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies assisted with the operation. Those agencies include: the U.S. Marshals Service; the Utah Highway Patrol; Utah Adult Probation and Parole; the Washington County Drug and Gang Task Force; the Salt Lake Metro Gang Task Force; the sheriffs' offices in Summit, Cache, Washington and Iron counties; and the police departments in Brigham City, Logan City, Tremonton, Santa Clara, Hurricane, Ivins, La Verkin, Orem, Cedar City and Wendover, Nev.
The Utah enforcement surge is part of ICE-HSI's ongoing anti-gang nationwide initiative known as Operation Community Shield. Since Operation Community Shield began in February 2005, ICE agents nationwide have arrested more than 18,000 gang members and gang associates, including more than 350 individuals in Utah.
Under Operation Community Shield, ICE-HSI is using its powerful immigration and customs law enforcement authorities in a coordinated, national campaign against criminal street gangs across the country. As part of the effort, HSI's National Gang Unit identifies violent street gangs and develops intelligence on their membership, associates, criminal activities and international movements to deter, disrupt and dismantle gang operations.
Transnational street gangs have significant numbers of foreign-born members and are frequently involved in human and contraband smuggling, immigration violations and other crimes with a connection to the border.