A two-month gang-enforcement operation netted 76 people who are now facing deportation or criminal charges, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Wednesday.
The agency worked with the Utah Attorney General's Office and the Utah U.S. Attorney's Office as well as local law enforcement agencies on the sting, dubbed "Operation Community Shield." Over two months, ICE targeted gangsters who established themselves as criminals in Utah -- some after crossing the border illegally, according to a news release from ICE.
Thirty-six gang members arrested in Utah will face federal or state criminal prosecution on charges such as illegally entering the country after deportation, murder and drug possession, the release states.
The remaining 40 are foreign nationals who are being processed for deportation, the release states. They are in ICE custody until their deportation hearings before an immigration judge.
At least one of those arrested, 34-year-old Guadalupe Alfredo Melendez-Laine, has been deported at least five times before his latest arrest in August, the release states. Melendez-Laine, a Honduran linked to a Sureno 13 gang, faces up to life in prison if convicted on his latest federal charge of re-entry after deportation, according to the release.
Also arrested in August was Juan Castillo-Ortiz, 26, whose criminal history includes weapons violations and felony drug charges. Castillo-Ortiz, a Mexican national and member of the Brown Pride street gang, is also charged with re-entry after deportation, the release states.
The sweep started in August, where 23 people were arrested in the Salt Lake City area, according to the release. Provo recorded 17 arrests and Ogden made 15 arrests during the operation, which ended last weekend, when 21 people were arrested in St. George.
ICE worked with local law enforcement agencies to identify gang members who pose a threat to public safety, according to the release. Foreign nationals who were arrested and are awaiting deportation hail from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Argentina, Peru, Cuba and Vietnam, the release states.
Utah U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman called the operation an effective tool to target gang violence in Utah neighborhoods.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff also praised the sting's results, noting the Secure Strike Force his office started in June partnered with ICE on the operation. The strike force combines the efforts of several agencies to target human trafficking, violent crime and major financial crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, according to the Utah Attorney General's Web site.
Operation Community Shield began in 2005, and ICE agents say they have arrested more than 14,000 gang members nationwide since its inception. More than 200 of those arrests took place in Utah.
Jonathan Lines, assistant special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations for Utah, said the latest operation "shows our collective resolve to attack and dismantle the street gangs that are threatening our communities."