U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) announced Wednesday, April 25, the arrests of 637 gang members and associates from 168 different gangs during Project Nefarious, an HSI-led operation executed in 150 U.S. cities and Honduras targeting transnational street gangs, prison gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs involved with human smuggling and trafficking organizations (HSTOs).
Project Nefarious began in February 2012 with threat assessments, intelligence gathering, information sharing and target identification, which resulted in enforcement operations from April 9 to April 21. Through Project Nefarious, HSI special agents worked side-by-side with 148 federal, state, local and international law enforcement partners to apprehend individuals from 28 gangs affiliated with HSTOs. More than 40 percent of those gang members or associates arrested during this operation were affiliated with gangs tied to HSTOs.
“The goal of Project Nefarious was to identify, locate, arrest, prosecute and remove gang members and associates affiliated with human smuggling and trafficking organizations,” said HSI Executive Associate Director James Dinkins. “By ridding our streets of 637 gang members and associates, we are putting a dent in the violence these transnational criminal street gangs bring to our communities.”
The impetus for Project Nefarious was the U.S. Department of Justice, National Gang Intelligence Center, National Gang Threat Assessment 2011 report, which identified gangs who are progressively becoming involved with human smuggling and trafficking. The report classified numerous gangs as exceedingly dangerous due to their involvement with
cross-border criminal activity linked to human smuggling and trafficking.
Transnational criminal street gangs have significant numbers of foreign-national members and are frequently involved in human smuggling and trafficking; narcotics smuggling and distribution; identity theft and benefit fraud; money laundering and bulk cash smuggling; weapons smuggling and arms trafficking; cyber crimes; export violations and other crimes with a nexus to the border.
Of the 637 gang members or associates arrested;
- 479 were charged with criminal offenses,
- 158 were administrative arrests,
- 210 had violent criminal histories,
- 10 were wanted for murder, and
- 290 were foreign nationals.
In addition to the 637 arrests, 155 individuals were arrested for federal and state criminal violations, or administrative immigration violations. Of the 155, 117 were charged with criminal offenses, 58 had violent criminal histories, 38 were administrative arrests and 69 were foreign nationals. In addition to the arrests, during the operation special agents seized 52 firearms, 5,462.6 pounds of marijuana, 6.6 pounds of cocaine, $201,437 in U.S. currency and 14 vehicles.
Arrests during Project Nefarious included:
- Carlos Alexander Melgar-Andrede, 22, an El Salvadoran national and associate of MS-13 was arrested inLos AngelesCounty on rape charges.
- Richard Paul Gonzales, 40, a U.S. citizen and member of the Mexikanemi, also
known as the Mexican Mafia gang, was arrested in Bexar County, Texas, for indecent exposure to minors and adults. His criminal convictions include
aggravated robbery, evading arrest, dangerous conduct and numerous narcotics-related offenses. Pursuant to this arrest, HSI San Antonio seized two pistols and two shotguns.
- Rodney Zaid Mejia, Pedro Melendez and Hector Villarreal, all 20-year-olds and Hector Abarca, 21, and Johnnie Sanchez, 31, all members or associates of MS-13, were arrested in Houston on federal charges of racketeering, drug trafficking and firearms violations.
- Ernesto Zaragoza Solis, 29, a U.S. citizen and associate of Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos, was arrested in Laredo, Texas, for kidnapping and engaging in organized criminal activity. His criminal convictions include transporting of an undocumented alien for private financial gain.
- David Solorio, 29, and Ronald Lopez, 46, both associates of the Mexican Mafia, and Sheldon McMorries, 34, all U.S. citizens, were arrested in Los Angeles County for conspiracy and murder. McMorries is a member of the street gang Varrio Carson 13, and an alleged hit man for the Mexican Mafia. His criminal convictions include taking a vehicle without consent, attempted grand theft auto and assault with a deadly weapon.
- Jorge Luis Garcia, 30, a U.S. citizen and member of the Valluco gang was arrested in Starr County, Texas, for evading and resisting arrest and open state warrants for aggravated assault. He is also a registered sex offender and has criminal convictions for possession of marijuana and a controlled substance, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, theft, resisting arrest, evading arrest and burglary.
Those arrested came from 33 countries in Central and South America, Europe, Asia,
Africa and the Caribbean. Of the total number arrested, 720 were males and 72 were females.
This enforcement operation is part of HSI’s Operation Community Shield global anti-gang initiative, and is administered by HSI’s National Gang Unit (NGU). Operation Community Shield partners with existing international, federal, state and local anti-gang efforts to identify violent street gangs, and develop intelligence on gang members and associates, criminal gang activities and international movements to arrest, prosecute, imprison and deport transnational gang members. NGU’s mission is to leverage its anti-gang initiative
“Operation Community Shield” to enhance U.S. public safety by developing strategic domestic and foreign law enforcement partnerships, and utilizing those partnerships along with unique legal authorities to target gangs, suppress their violence and prosecute their criminal enterprises.
Since the inception of Operation Community Shield in 2005, HSI special agents working
in conjunction with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide have arrested more than 25,629 street gang members and associates. Almost 40 percent of those arrested had a violent criminal history. Of those arrested, 313 were gang leaders and 3,910 were MS-13 gang members or associates. Through this initiative nationally, HSI has seized 3,024 firearms. To date, of those arrested, 13,405 have been charged criminally, and 12,224 have been charged with immigration violations.
Federal agencies involved in Project Nefarious included the FBI, the Drug Enforcement
Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marshals Service, Bureau of Prisons and U.S. attorneys’ offices around the country.