SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Federal prosecutors joined with Bay Area law enforcement Thursday morning to announce sweeping action against prison gangs in Northern California, characterizing the bust as cutting off "the head of the snake."
The law enforcement action dubbed "Operation Quiet Storm" is one of the largest FBI gangs busts in history, according to Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Stephanie Hinds. Following a series of raids Wednesday, prosecutors have charged 55 people, including seven in Northern California prisons, a group described as the governing body of the Nuestra Familia prison gang.
"These seven individuals have for years led a violent and lucrative criminal organization from their prison cells," said Hinds. "While the physical movement of this leadership was restricted by prison walls, the indictment alleges that their power and influence were not so constrained."
Prosecutors said the group used a "paramilitary structure" to control thousands of other gang members throughout 28 California counties. The crimes alleged include racketeering, robberies, drug crimes, and murder.
"By disrupting gang leadership, we take aim at the head of the snake and seek to reduce violence and other criminal activity on our streets and in our jails and prisons, said Hinds."
The bust was part of a five-year, multi-agency investigation and Hinds said the enforcement action is not over yet. Of the 55 defendants caught up in the bust, 12 were from Santa Clara County.
Word of the sweeping law enforcement action was made at a Thursday morning press conference at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco. Hinds was joined by FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair, DEA Special Agent in Charge Wade Shannon, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Safety Chief Derrick Marion, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith and San Jose Police Deputy Chief Elle Washburn.
According to the indictment, gang leadership would issue orders from six prisons Northern California prisons: California State Prison-Sacramento, California State Prison-Solano, High Desert State Prison, Pelican Bay State Prison, Pleasant Valley State Prison and Salinas Valley State Prison.
Fair said the Nuestra Familia prison gang worked with other gangs such as Norteños, El Hoyo Grande, and San Jose Palmas with the effects felt across communities in the Bay Area and California.
"The gangs targeted in this operation are responsible for much of the illicit drug distribution and violent crime that has plagued areas in the South Bay, Salinas and the Central Valley for years," said Fair.
Fair said arrests were made in Santa Clara, Alameda, Modesto, San Benito, Santa Cruz, Kern, San Francisco, Tulare and Stanislaus counties, with officers seizing bulk cash, dangerous weapons and narcotics.
There are currently 36 defendants in federal custody, Hinds said, with those previously incarcerated in state prisons being transferred to federal facilities.
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