SAN DIEGO – Forty-five people with ties to six criminal street gangs across San Diego were charged with drug and illegal weapons trafficking, authorities announced Thursday.
Following a yearlong investigation and a three-day gang sweep that concluded this morning, 40 defendants were in custody and 52 weapons were taken off the streets, said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy.
Investigators said the suspects had a large-scale operation working out of homes in neighborhoods across the city of San Diego, including Linda Vista, City Heights, Clairemont Mesa and Oak Park, including an apartment across the street from Hoover High School.
“These are the streets where our kids are walking to school and our kids are out playing,” said Duffy.
Investigators said the suspects were followed by undercover agents for months and were busted just this week.
Agents and detectives seized 52 illegal firearms and $47,600 in cash at a house in Oak Park, bringing the total cash seized to almost $60,000.
Among the guns seized in the investigation, dubbed “Crystal Palace II,” were numerous assault rifles, a 9mm (Tec 9) with a high capacity magazine and a couple Norinco Mak 90 7.62 (AK 47s) with high capacity magazines.
“Transactions were conducted in public areas such as a parking lot at a crowded casino, a car wash and a parking lot on a Good Will store,” said Special Agent Derek Benner.
The alleged illegal trafficking operation went well beyond state borders – from California to Minnesota, to Hawaii and even Guam.
Agents said the meth came from “super labs” in Mexico, satisfying a growing demand.
“It’s cheap, it’s pure and it’s highly addictive,” stressed Duffy.
Ten indictments unsealed this week describe five different conspiracies with overlapping players, including individuals with ties to the Oriental Killer Boys, the Oriental Mob Crips, the Viet Boys, the Tiny Oriental Crips. the Logan Heights Calle Treinta and Linda Vista Crips.
According to the indictments and search warrants, some of the defendants were felons in possession of firearms.
“The results of this operation is to put gang members on notice, they are the ones that should be afraid and not members of this community,” added Benner.
This bust comes just days after new San Diego County statistics were released showing 2012 had one of the highest numbers of methamphetamine related deaths, killing 217 San Diegans.
The case is the latest in a series of federally-charged, large-scale multi-agency crackdowns on street gang activity in San Diego County neighborhoods, Duffy said. Including today’s indictments, nearly 300 people have been charged in a number of major federal gang prosecutions since January 2012, with scores of guilty pleas entered.
According to Duffy, federal prosecutions of methamphetamine drug crimes in the Southern District of California, which includes San Diego and Imperial counties, have increased more than 500 percent in the last five years.