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A year-long investigation into the criminal activities of a San Bernardino street gang resulted in 180 arrests, the closure of 30 illegal gambling operations and the seizure of more than 100 assault rifles and weapons fist, authorities said Thursday.

Last year, San Bernardino Police began investigating illegal gun sales involving Westside Verdugo, a Latino street gang rooted in the city for around 70 years.

But at the start of the investigation, police realized they were dealing with something far more important than mere illicit sales of firearms, Police Chief David Green said during the interview. a press conference Thursday at the San Bernardino Police Department, where dozens of assault weapons and handguns were seized by police during the investigation was laid out on a table. A large electronic gaming machine was also on display.

San Bernardino Police Chief David Green announces 180 arrests made and 111 firearms seized in a multi-agency operation targeting the criminal street gang Westside Verdugo at a press conference at the police station in San Bernardino in San Bernardino on Thursday, December 9, 2021 (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, La Presse-Entreprise / SCNG)

“As they started to do more analysis on these cases, they recognized that it was a little more coordinated and a little more important than what they had initially realized, and that is when ‘they started pursuing it as a conspiracy-type investigation, ”Green said. . The investigation and subsequent arrests extended to Orange and Los Angeles counties, he said.

Several agencies are involved

In June, the investigation gained momentum when the San Bernardino Police Department asked the State Attorney General’s Special Operations Unit to join the investigation. The Santa Ana Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol were also involved in the investigation, which culminated on Wednesday. when officers deployed to San Bernardino County, serving 34 search warrants, arresting 31 people and seizing 111 firearms in multiple locations.

Guns seized during a multi-agency operation targeting the criminal street gang of Westside Verdugo are on display during a press conference at the San Bernardino Police Station in San Bernardino on Thursday, December 9, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG)

During the investigation, titled “Operation Westside Jenga”, police seized 92 handguns, 19 assault weapons, over $ 295,000 in cash and hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine, marijuana, heroin. and fentanyl. Several shootings and potential armed robberies have been thwarted, and evidence gathered by investigators during the investigation closed two homicide cases, police said.

Additionally, investigators infiltrated and shut down 30 illegal gambling operations and seized more than 100 high-end slot machines. The facilities were linked to five homicides, four attempted murders and other crimes in 2021, authorities said.

Gaming operations

The gambling operations – which housed high-end slot machines, most acquired on the black market and imported from China – brought in tens of thousands of dollars a week and were operated from private residences, warehouses and businesses. ‘businesses closed, Green said. .

He said the gambling facilities were a joint venture between Westside Verdugo and the Mexican Mafia, the patriarchal prison gang that receives a share of the profits from drug sales and other illicit activities carried out by Westside Verdugo and other gangs in street Latinos in the form of “taxes.” A portion of that revenue was reinvested in gambling operations.

“There is a hierarchy. It has its own economic model. It’s an illicit business model, but it’s a model that is nonetheless very lucrative, ”Green said.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said residents of San Bernardino “can go to bed tonight knowing their community is safer.”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announces the results of a multi-agency operation targeting the criminal street gang of Westside Verdugo that resulted in 180 arrests and the closure of 30 illegal gambling operations at a conference of press at the San Bernardino Police Station in San Bernardino on Thursday, December 9. , 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG)

“We are putting serious criminals behind bars,” Bonta said, adding that he was proud of the results of the investigation not only as an attorney general, but also as a father. “Every child in California deserves to grow up in a safe neighborhood – a neighborhood free of violence, a neighborhood free of gun violence. “

The feds are not involved

Green said authorities chose to handle the prosecutions locally without the help of the federal government, which often eliminates these large criminal enterprises using the racketeering-influenced corrupt organizations act known as the RICO Act.

“We are not pursuing a federal prosecution in this matter because we have the local district attorney’s office which we believe will be able to give us a favorable outcome for the prosecution,” Green said. “But these types of cases are often handled by federal prosecutors under this RICO Act.”

San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson said his office has so far charged 45 defendants with various criminal offenses, which include a total of 57 gun upgrades and 41 gang upgrades. Six of the defendants face third strikes, Anderson said.

“Our role is twofold in this particular case. First, we’re going to punish these people as harshly as possible, and second, we’re going to separate them from an otherwise law-abiding community for as long as possible, ”Anderson said.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson speaks during a press conference at the San Bernardino Police Station in San Bernardino on Thursday, December 9, 2021. Authorities announced the results of a multi-agency operation targeting the criminal street gang of Westside Verdugo which has resulted in 180 arrests and the closure of 30 illegal gambling operations. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise / SCNG)

Further criminal charges are expected, authorities said.

“Many of these cases are still under review and we expect many more charges to be filed,” Green said. “Some of them will be judged jointly, and some of them will be analyzed separately.”

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