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Agencies make gang-related arrests

By TIFFANY DE MASTERS tdemasters@thespectrum.com July 17, 2008

ST. GEORGE - Five juveniles and five adults rounded up Wednesday by local, state and federal law agencies will be processed for deportation.

The 10 individuals were reported to be gang members or gang affiliated.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, along with the St. George Police Depart- ment, Washington County Gang Task Force and the FBI, actively pursued individuals with known gang activity and possible illegal immigration status all day Wednesday.

Jonathan Lines, assistant special agent in charge of all ICE investigative activities in Utah, said this operation is part of Operation Community Shield.

Lines said three years ago ICE realized the gang problem, particularly in metropolitan cities.

"They (gang members) were mostly foreign nationals," he said. "They weren't here for the economic improvements and they weren't poster children of the American Dream - they were bringing gang activity to our streets."

It's been in the last few months Utah has been involved in the operation.

"It is something that we've been working on, it's an on-going effort and it's something we'd like to continue," Lines said.

Not only had they (ICE) noticed the gang activities in major cities but agents noticed gang activity creeping into smaller communities. Lines said the operation is a collaborative effort between local and state law enforcement with ICE to seek out, gather intelligence and locate those individuals.

"It's a cooperative effort that each agency decides whether or not they want to participate in combating these criminal gang organizations," he said.

"They (gang members) shouldn't feel comfortable here - we will find them and we will locate them."

Agents and detectives went to several different homes in the Dixie Downs area.

Det. Situli Tafili was interviewing a female teenager with known gang affiliation. While interviewing the teen and her mother, 34-year-old Noe Jimenez showed up at the residence.

Jimenez identified himself as the girl's uncle. Tafili said he asked Jimenez for his ID.

"While checking it (ID) he disappeared," he said.

Tafili caught up with Jimenez at his residence, about five blocks away from the teen's home.

"He's been deported before," he said. "At least one of his kids is gang affiliated."

Tafili said they had 14 targets and ages of those involved with gang activity ranged from 14 to 24.

Det. Johnny Heppler with the Gang Task Force, said they had been productive.

"When a good plan comes into fruition it's a good thing," he said. "It's a culmination of everybody's efforts coming to a head and then dropping down the hammer."

Heppler added they're going to do everything in their power and authority to stop gang activity.

"Some people are going to think this action is harsh, but we deal with gang members harshly," he said.

Operation Community Shield is an ongoing operation.

"We're not waiting for these operations. When we gain intelligence we pro-actively and aggressively target those gang members," Lines said.

Miguel Estrada, resident agent in charge of ICE operations in St. George, agreed.

"When we're aware of these situations we don't wait for these operations, we act on them," he said. "It's common for us to assist with the task forces and we assist in any way we can."

St. George police chief Marlon Stratton said it was a good day.

"We're not going to tolerate gang activity," he said. "We know it's what the community wants us to do because people move here for the quality of life."

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