SAN DIEGO — Following a yearlong investigation and three-day enforcement operation, 45 individuals with ties to six San Diego-area criminal street gangs have been charged with gun and methamphetamine-trafficking crimes in indictments unsealed this week.
As of Thursday morning, 40 of the defendants were in custody and 52 weapons had been seized. A coalition of federal, state and local agents also conducted searches at sites in eight San Diego-area neighborhoods – including Linda Vista, Midtown, City Heights, Mid City, Clairemont Mesa and Oak Park.
Many of the search locations were homes where drugs and guns had been stored or sold, including an apartment across the street from Hoover High School. Among the guns recovered during the probe, dubbed Crystal Palace II, were numerous assault rifles; AR-15 semi-automatic rifles; and at least two AK-47s.
The 10 indictments describe five different conspiracies with overlapping players, including individuals with ties to the Oriental Killer Boys, the Oriental Mob Crips, the Viet Boys, the Tiny Oriental Crips, the Logan Heights Calle Treinta and Linda Vista Crips. According to the case indictments and search warrant affidavits, most defendants were drug traffickers selling methamphetamine. Some were felons in possession of firearms.
The indictments are the result of a multiagency probe involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). U.S. Customs and Border Protection - Border Patrol aided with this week's searches and arrests.
"We are absolutely committed to making our neighborhoods safe from violent gang activity and drug trafficking," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. "We will not allow our neighborhoods to become headquarters for drug-pushing, gun-toting gangsters."
"HSI and our law enforcement partners have struck a serious blow to violent gang organizations in San Diego," said Derek Benner, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego. "The investigation focused on disrupting criminal gang activity in Southern California based on previously gathered intelligence. This week's arrests, which included a number of high-level gang members, will immediately improve community safety."
"This is exactly the type of criminal activity that DEA and its law enforcement partners want to ensure is not afflicting the streets of San Diego," said Special Agent in Charge William R. Sherman of the San Diego DEA.
"Combating violent crime to make our communities safer is our first goal," said John D'Angelo, acting special agent in charge of the ATF Los Angeles Field Division. "We best achieve that through effective partnerships and innovative enforcement. In this investigation, our agencies worked together, but uniquely applied our respective resources and enforcement jurisdictions to the overall effort. As a result, we made a far greater impact together than any of us could have alone."
According to court documents, some of the defendants were distributing methamphetamine far beyond the California's borders – from Hawaii to Guam, and from central California to Minnesota.
This case is the latest in a series of large-scale, multiagency crackdowns on street gang activity in San Diego County neighborhoods. Including these latest indictments, almost 300 people have been charged in a number of major federal gang prosecutions since January 2012, with scores of guilty pleas entered. The common denominator in most of the cases is methamphetamine, an increasingly popular commodity among gang members because it is cheap to produce, highly addictive and in great demand.
Federal prosecutions of methamphetamine drug crimes in the Southern District of California, which includes San Diego and Imperial counties, have increased more than 500 percent in the last five years, from 144 cases in fiscal year 2008 to 910 cases in fiscal year 2013.
While San Diego County was once known for its large number of methamphetamine labs, production has shifted to "super labs" operated by drug cartels in Mexico. As a result, methamphetamine seizures at U.S. ports of entry along the California-Mexico border have almost doubled. In fiscal 2013, nearly 12,000 pounds of methamphetamine were seized at the ports, compared to almost 6,700 pounds two years earlier, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics.