Police Stifle Gang Activity

Published Monday, October 20, 2008

In a sweep dubbed “Operation Gator Roll,” the Santa Barbara Police Dept. made 59 gang-related arrests last week.

The coordinated effort, which included local law enforcement agencies from up and down the Central Coast as well as federal agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agencies, ended a yearlong investigation into the activities of Santa Barbara’s Eastside Gang. The investigation has led to both federal and state racketeering indictments, as well as a litany of other charges, including murder, Thom Morzek, a spokesman from the U.S. Attorney Central district said.

“This [was] a significant case,” Morzek said. “We do not bring racketeering cases lightly.”

Investigations leading up to the sweep on the Oct. 15 had previously yielded 160 arrests, and charged Eastside members with a laundry list of crimes. Robbery, assault, conspiracy and distribution of drugs, illegal sale and possession of a deadly weapon and murder were all part of the indictments against the gang. Due to the severity of the charges, Morzek said departments leading the investigation called for the help of federal agencies.

“Basically, the Santa Barbara Police called us and said, ‘Let’s work together on this,’ and we said, ‘Hell yeah, let’s do it!’” Morzek said. “More and more, federal law enforcement has been working with local law enforcement to take down street gangs.”

The arrested members of the Eastside Gang – which has been in operation since the late ’80s and holds loyalty to the Mexican Mafia – represent several generations of gang affiliation. A police report showed an age range of Eastside members between 18 and 40 years old. The report also showed that of the 59 gang members arrested on Wednesday, most were younger than 25, and a significant number were under 20.

According to a court transcript, the Eastside Gang claims territory between State Street, Alameda Padre Sierra, Anapamu Street and Cabrillo Boulevard. They have been known to carry weapons and assault people on their “turf,” even if the victim has no gang affiliation.

The court was also concerned with violence between rival gangs, namely the Westside Gang, but found that the gang’s crimes “typically ranged from personal attacks, including hate crimes against African-Americans, to attacks against property.”

A press conference following the sweep focused on the significance of Operation Gator Roll.

“Today’s operation has dealt a severe blow to one of the most dangerous street gangs operating in this area,” head Los Angeles ICE agent Robert Schoch said.

Although this operation was successful, ATF’s special agent in charge of the Los Angeles Field Division, John A. Torres, said there is still work to be done.

“ATF will continue to have a presence wherever gangsters have a presence,” Torres said

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