Twenty-one members and associates of white supremacy gangs in Utah face charges after distributing guns and drugs around Salt Lake City and Ogden, according to court records.
The indictments stem from an investigation that began in June 2019 looking into the Soldiers of Aryan Culture, Silent Aryan Warriors and Noble Elect Thugs.
“SAC and SAW are highly volatile, dangerous criminal enterprises,” Mike Schoenfeld, director of the Salt Lake Area Gang Project, said at a news conference Friday outside the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office in South Salt Lake. "These gangs have their roots right here in the Utah prison system. It’s not something to be proud of. But they also have very strong ties nationwide to other violent white supremacy groups.”
The 15 indictments unsealed Friday include charges for distributing heroin and methamphetamine, possessing a firearm while selling drugs and having a gun as a felon.
Many of the men and women charged have lengthy criminal histories in Utah, according to officials. Eleven of the defendants were arrested Wednesday, and 10 were already in custody. They will attend initial appearance hearings in the coming weeks.
“These targets were violent, they’re criminals, and they’re the worst in our communities,” said Matt Harris, U.S. Marshal for the District of Utah.
Harris added, “We do have our problems ... and we’ve got a lot of crime here in Utah,” but there are agencies in the state dedicated to working together to address those issues.
“These partnerships and these types of investigations make a difference in all of our neighborhoods. They take people off the streets that are making our neighborhoods unsafe and unstable," said Eric Young, Ogden deputy police chief.
Roughly 1.65 pounds of meth was purchased and 15 firearms were recovered as part of the investigation. Like the rest of the country, “Utah has a huge demand for illicit drugs,” including meth, heroin, pain pills and marijuana, U.S. attorney John Huber said.
“It’s just a constant, endless demand for it," he said. “It’s an insatiable appetite.”
In his more than five years as U.S. attorney for Utah, Huber said he’s worked with law enforcement agencies to “target and take down" over 35 organized crime groups, resulting in nearly 300 federal convictions. Huber also said they do operations like the one announced Friday six to eight times a year.
The agencies involved include the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Ogden Police Department, Unified Police Department, U.S. Marshals Service, Salt Lake Area Metro Gang Unit, Ogden Metro Gang Unit, Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force, West Valley City Police Department and the Utah Department of Public Safety’s State Bureau of Investigation.
Huber said the investigation and Friday’s unsealed indictments are not a response to the protests against police shootings and systemic racism, despite what some “cynics" may believe. Rather, he said it shows the role law enforcement plays in combatting the “white supremacy issue in Utah."