GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) — A massive effort carried out by 120 federal and state officials before dawn Thursday led to the arrest of 12 suspected members of a local gang with international ties, according to an FBI news release.
Two other people were still being sought by authorities by Thursday afternoon, the release said. They and the 12 arrested have been indicted on a combination of federal and state drug trafficking and firearms offenses, as well as a new Nebraska law intended to combat gang recruitment.
“Transnational gangs overrun some communities through fear, intimidation and ruthless acts of violence,” said Mike Feinberg, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations. “The criminal enterprises these gangs represent destabilize our communities and our everyday lives.”
Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement based in St. Paul, Minn., says the effort included some 60 FBI agents and about 20 Homeland Security investigators within ICE. Among them were FBI agents from Nebraska and Kansas City, Mo., as well as Homeland Security investigators from Nebraska and Minnesota.
Neudauer said those arrested are members of the East Side Locos gang and are believed to have ties to violent international gangs.
The arrests and indictments are part of two federal operations: the FBI’s anti-crime initiative, Operation Safe Streets, and Operation Community Shield, an ongoing national ICE effort to target foreign-born violent gang members.
The FBI and federal Homeland Security officials planned to answer questions about the arrests later Thursday at a news conference. Grand Island Police Chief Steve Lamken and Hall County Attorney Mark Young were scheduled to participate in the news conference.
Grand Island has had trouble with gang violence in recent years, highlighted in January when a 15-year-old student was shot at a home in the city in what was believed to have been a gang-related altercation. Rumors of gang retaliation following the shooting swept through the city, prompting police to station officers carrying AR-15 assault rifles at Grand Island High School entrances to reassure students and parents.
Several other shootings in recent years also are believed to have been related to an increase in gang members in the meatpacking city that lies along Interstate 80 about 125 miles west of Omaha.
Earlier this year, Young — the county attorney — estimated there were fewer than 100 gang members in the city.
Sarah Gregory of Grand Island said the city that she grew up in seems more dangerous than it was when she was a child. Gregory, who works as a convenience store clerk on the west side of downtown, believes crime and violence in her hometown have worsened in the last couple years.
“I don’t know where it all came from,” said Gregory, whose father used to be a police officer in Grand Island. “When I was little, I used to walk to school every day. I can’t see my parents doing that today.”
Joel Hoffman, 60, a semiretired manufacturing worker, said he’s lived in Grand Island for nearly 50 years, and is glad to see federal officials going after suspected gang members. Hoffman said he hears about some sort of gang-related incident about once a month.
“The east side of Grand Island is maybe not a nice place to be at night,” he said. “Nothing good can happen from these gangs.”
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