Months of surveillance on suspected high-profile members of a Salt Lake County gang led to the arrest of a dozen people on suspicion of drug trafficking — an operation authorities believe will improve countywide crime rates.
Federal prosecutors in Utah filed a complaint against 15 people allegedly associated with the GlenMob gang, so called because of its affiliation with the Glendale neighborhood in west Salt Lake City, according to court documents unsealed Friday.
Known for its suspected front as a rap group, GlenMob falls under the umbrella of the local Sureños street gang (rivals to the Norteños) and includes members of the Sur Towne Chiques 13, the La Raza Violent Street Gang and the Avenues Violent Street Gang, the complaint states.
A dozen people — Abraham Sanchez, 22; Angel Rivera, 25; Cameron Lucas, 19; Melissa Kelly, 32; Kenneth Reyos, 20; Dominic Trujillo, 23; David Miramontes, 32; Nick Vigil, 31; Jesus Alvarado, 31; Salvador Tafolla, 26; Juan Noriega, 34; and Tranquilino Reyos, 23 — have been arrested, while police are looking for three others — Daniel Silva, 26; Sipriano Molina, 21; and Fabian Uriel Tapia-Bustamante, 18 — according to a press release from Utah’s U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Kelly has since been released from custody.
They are accused of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, a federal complaint that carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison or a maximum of life in prison.
The investigation included listening to phone calls, setting up cameras to watch the alleged conspirators and initiating a number of controlled drug buys. It ultimately netted at least 15 firearms, 15 pounds of methamphetamine, a half-pound of heroin, “several” pounds of marijuana and $36,000, according to the release.
Investigators allege Silva and Sanchez are the leaders of the GlenMob drug trafficking operation. Molina, Lucas and Tafolla are considered the main distributors, and Rivera, Kelly, Miramontes, Trujillo, Reyos, Vigil, Alvarado, Reyos, Noriega and Tapia-Bustamante are believed to be “sub-distributors,” who buy large quantities of drugs from the aforementioned to sell.
Law enforcement, including the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and local police from Sandy, West Valley City, Unified and Salt Lake City, among others, were involved in the lengthy investigation as part of the Utah Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative.
Much of the information in the 35-page complaint details officers’ surveillance of the accused, watching individuals come in and out of a suspected drug “stash house” to allegedly pick up or drop off drugs, as well as phone conversations in which they appear to be discussing buying drugs.
In one conversation, FBI agents intercepted March 29 after coordinating with Unified police to pull over Kelly, she says, “He pulled me over, and there’s one, two, three, four, five [police], with dogs. F------, I have all f------ Dom’s bud, his crys [methamphetamine], everything.”
Police “conducted a ruse” and did not arrest Kelly, “pretending they had more important things to do,” according to the complaint, to buy time and learn more about the players in the alleged drug trafficking operation.
On April 4, an intercepted call with Rivera mentioned the traffic stop.
“Like, that week my girl got pulled over with some, some weed in the car, you know? Some weed in the car, and it was mine. ... Swear to god, and they had the dogs came out, everything, sniffing the whole car. She had to stick that other s--- in her p----,” he said.
Authorities believe the “other” stuff referenced is methamphetamine, according to the complaint.
Police watched the group for nearly a year, gathering information and snippets of conversations like the ones above to put together their case.
That case, officials said at Friday’s press conference, is a good example of what the Utah Project Safe Neighborhood’s initiative is supposed to do: bring together local, state and federal authorities to lower Utah’s rate of violent crime by working cases they believe will make a large impact on community safety.
As Utah’s U.S. Attorney John Huber described it during a Friday press conference, the “operation represents the best of the best going after the alleged worst of the worst.”
Officials on Friday weren’t willing to say the extent to which the GlenMob members contributed to violent crime in Salt Lake County. However, FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Barnhart, with the bureau’s Salt Lake City office, said the task force was focused on the “10 percent, or the 5 percent or the 3 percent who are causing 80 percent of the chaos.”
In 2017, the FBI learned of a substantial rise in gang violence in Salt Lake County, which it attributed to the Norteños and Sureños street gangs.
With that in mind — and about a dozen alleged members of one of those gangs in custody — Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera predicted the arrests would have a “huge impact” on the amount of violent crime in Salt Lake County’s west side. West Valley City Police Chief Colleen Jacobs echoed the sheriff’s sentiments.
“These arrests will make a positive impact on every community in this county because this behavior has negatively affected every community in this county,” Jacobs said.