SAN ANTONIO – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) announced Wednesday the arrests of 637 gang members and gang associates from 168 different gangs, including some members from South Texas, that were involved with illegal trafficking crimes.
The operation was called “Project Nefarious,” an HSI-led operation executed in 150 U.S. cities and Honduras targeting transnational street gangs, prison gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs involved with human smuggling and trafficking organizations (HSTO). Of the 697 nationally, 36 were arrested in various parts of south Texas.
Project Nefarious began in February 2012 with threat assessments, intelligence gathering, information sharing, and target identification, which resulted in enforcement operations from April 9 to April 21.
Through Project Nefarious, HSI agents worked side-by-side with 148 federal, state, local and international law enforcement partners to apprehend individuals from 28 gangs affiliated with human smuggling and trafficking groups . More than 40 percent of those gang members or associates arrested during this operation were affiliated with gangs tied to those organizations.
The 36 arrested in south Texas are members of Texas Syndicate, Hermanos Pistoleros, Mexican Mafia and Valluco.
“The goal of Project Nefarious was to identify, locate, arrest, prosecute and remove gang members and associates affiliated with human smuggling and trafficking organizations,” said ICE HSI Executive Associate Director James Dinkins. “By ridding our streets of 637 gang members and associates, we are putting a dent in the violence these transnational criminal street gangs bring to our communities.”
Transnational criminal street gangs have significant numbers of foreign-national members and are frequently involved in human smuggling and trafficking; narcotics smuggling and distribution; identity theft and benefit fraud; money laundering and bulk cash smuggling; weapons smuggling and arms trafficking; cyber crimes; export violations and other crimes with a nexus to the border.
Of the 637 gang members or associates arrested:
479 were charged with criminal offenses
158 were administrative arrests
210 had violent criminal histories
10 were wanted for murder, and
290 were foreign nationals.
155 individuals were arrested for federal and state criminal violations, or administrative immigration violations. Of these 155, 117 were charged with criminal offenses, 58 had violent criminal histories, 38 were administrative arrests and 69 were foreign nationals.
During the operation agents seized 52 firearms, 5,462.6 pounds of marijuana, 6.6 pounds of cocaine, $201,437 in U.S currency and 14 vehicles.
Arrests during Project Nefarious included:
- Carlos Alexander Melgar-Andrede, 22, an El Salvadoran national and associate of MS-13 was arrested in Los Angeles County on rape charges.
- Richard Paul Gonzales, 40, a U.S. citizen and member of the Mexikanemi, also known as the Mexican Mafia gang, was arrested in Bexar County, Texas, for indecent exposure to minors and adults. His criminal convictions include aggravated robbery, evading arrest, dangerous conduct and numerous narcotics-related offenses. Pursuant to this arrest, HSI San Antonio seized two pistols and two shotguns.
- Rodney Zaid Mejia, Pedro Melendez and Hector Villarreal, all 20-year-olds and Hector Abarca, 21, and Johnnie Sanchez, 31, all members or associates of MS-13, were arrested in Houston on federal charges of racketeering, drug trafficking and firearms violations.
- Ernesto Zaragoza Solis, 29, a U.S. citizen and associate of Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos, was arrested in Laredo, Texas, for kidnapping and engaging in organized criminal activity. His criminal convictions include transporting an illegal alien for private financial gain.
- David Solorio, 29, and Ronald Lopez, 46, both associates of the Mexican Mafia, and Sheldon McMorries, 34, all U.S. citizens, were arrested in Los Angeles County for conspiracy and murder. McMorries is a member of the street gang Varrio Carson 13, and an alleged hit man for the Mexican Mafia. His criminal convictions include taking vehicle without consent, attempted grand theft auto, and assault with a deadly weapon.
- Jorge Luis Garcia, 30, a U.S. citizen and member of the Valluco gang was arrested in Starr County, Texas, for evading and resisting arrest and open state warrants for aggravated assault. He is also a registered sex offender and has criminal convictions for possessing marijuana, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, theft, resisting arrest, evading arrest and burglary.
Those arrested came from 33 countries in Central and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Of the 792 total number arrested, 720 were males and 72 were females.