SAN DIEGO–A crackdown on violent street gangs in San Diego County over the last 75 days has resulted in federal charges against more than 140 gang members and associates, many of whom are accused of terrorizing neighborhoods with shootings, robberies and other violent crimes.
More than 60 firearms and 30 pounds of methamphetamine, plus cash and other illicit drugs were seized by law enforcement during the course of four long-term gang investigations that culminated this spring with various indictments charging crimes such as racketeering, money laundering and gun, drug or sex trafficking.
“This is an unusually large number of gang members arrested in a very short period of time,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson. “The sheer number of arrests illustrates that gangs are a significant problem in this county. But it also underscores our enormous commitment to use every tool we have to attack this problem and restore communities to families who should not have to live in fear in their own homes.”
The most recent charges, unsealed this week in federal court, involve the prosecution of 16 members and associates of the Escondido-based Diablos street gang. The defendants are facing various drug trafficking offenses.
According to court records, in the last year the Diablos gang has been responsible for more than 25 gang-related shootings, multiple attempted murders, dozens of armed robberies, multiple instances of witness intimidation and the widespread distribution of narcotics and firearms in North San Diego County.
This investigation helped to identify and locate Dionicio Torrez, a Diablos gang member, as the suspected shooter of Cathy Kennedy, who was fatally wounded by gang gunfire March 7 as she drove home from church in Escondido.
The case involved a total of 13 wiretaps, the interception of over 20,000 telephone calls and text messages and the seizure of approximately 13 pounds of high-quality methamphetamine and 10 rifles and handguns, including 4 AR-15 type rifles, an AK-47 rifle, an SKS rifle and 2 handguns, one of which had an obliterated serial number.
The Diablos Enterprise claims control of the eastern and north central areas of Escondido. The approximate boundaries of the territory they claim is Lincoln Avenue to the north, Grand Avenue to the south, Midway Drive to the to the east and Escondido Boulevard to the west. There are approximately 311 documented members of the Diablos Enterprise and an additional 400 individuals who are “associates” of the Diablos Enterprise.
The four proactive gang cases involved months of federal wiretaps, extensive surveillance and scores of undercover drug and gun buys. The gang members were charged with crimes ranging from money laundering and racketeering to heroin, methamphetamine, firearms and sex trafficking.
“When members of criminal street gangs are arrested during joint operations, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office reviews their criminal histories and coordinates with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to determine where a defendant would be most appropriately prosecuted,” said Chief Deputy DA Summer Stephan, who oversees the DA’s Gangs Division. “In essence, we collaborate to get the most effective bang for our prosecutorial buck and make sure justice is served, whether that happens on the state or federal side.”
“Dismantling violent gangs is a continuing priority for the FBI. We share an unwavering commitment with our law enforcement partners to address the dangerous threat facing our communities today,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Birnbaum said. “The impact of our recent gang cases clearly demonstrates our focus and determination to strike at gang related enterprises and to eliminate the terror these groups inflict on our neighborhoods.”
“Our communities are safer because of ATF’s expanded efforts to target and dismantle criminal gangs and organized criminal enterprises that use firearms and violent acts to further their illegal gains,” said ATF Los Angeles Field Division Special Agent in Charge Eric Harden. “ATF and its partners are dedicated to carrying out our mission by ridding our communities of these gang members and associates who shatter families and destroy lives.”
“Our agency plays a unique role in federal law enforcement’s resolve to dismantle the criminal gang enterprises terrorizing our streets. Our agents target the profit and financial gains of these organizations, following the money in an effort to disrupt these organizations and restore order to our communities,” stated Special Agent in Charge Damon Rowe for IRS Criminal Investigation. “We are proud to provide this financial expertise as we work alongside our law enforcement partners to bring these criminals to justice.”
If convicted, gang members could receive a mandatory-minimum of 5 years, up to 40 years in prison.