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Transnational Gangs
11/20/2009

More than 80 arrested in multi-agency gang operation in Washington state

Arrests made in Tri-Cities and Yakima Valley

YAKIMA, Wash. - More than 80 gang members and gang associates were arrested in a three-day multi-agency enforcement operation that ended Friday in the Yakima Valley and Tri-Cities area of Washington state.

The operation, dubbed "Valley Thunder," was a coordinated law enforcement effort by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Washington; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); and state and local law enforcement.

Thirteen of those arrested during the operation, which began Wednesday, are facing federal prosecution on charges of re-entry after deportation, possession of fraudulent documents, an illegal alien in possession of a firearm or a felon in possession of a firearm. They will face immigration charges later.

Twelve others were arrested on administrative immigration violations and are being processed for deportation. All are Mexican nationals.

"Operation Valley Thunder demonstrates our collective resolve to dismantle gang organizations that threaten the quality of life in our neighborhoods and communities," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Seattle. "ICE will use its unique enforcement authorities to investigate these violent organizations and work closely with our law enforcement partners to stop this criminal activity."

The arrests were made as part of an ongoing initiative by ICE's National Gang Unit called Operation Community Shield (OCS). As part of the initiative, ICE partners with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the country to target the significant public safety threat posed by transnational street gangs.

The National Gang Unit at ICE identifies violent street gangs and develops intelligence on their membership, associates, criminal activities and international movements to deter, disrupt and dismantle gang operations by tracing and seizing cash, weapons and other assets derived from criminal activities. Since OCS began in February 2005, ICE agents nationwide have arrested more than 14,000 gang members and associates linked to more than 900 different gangs.

In addition to ICE, DEA and the ATF, other federal law enforcement agencies participating in the operation were U.S. Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Marshals Service; the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Inspector General (OIG); and the Social Security Administration OIG. Local enforcement agencies assisting with the enforcement action included the Metro Drug Task Force; the Benton Franklin Juvenile Probation; the Washington Department of Corrections Adult Supervision; the sheriff's departments in Benton, Franklin and Yakima counties; and the police departments in Kennewick, Pasco, Moxee, Prosser, Richland and West Richland.