U.S. arrests 88 suspected gang members in huge sweep

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Police and federal agents arrested 88 people linked to a notorious Southern California street gang in raids on Thursday that capped the largest such sweep by the U.S. Justice Department, authorities said.

The arrests stem from federal indictments charging 147 suspected members and associates of a gang that has operated for decades in and around Hawaiian Gardens, a small working-class city near the border of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

The heart of the government's case is a racketeering indictment, naming 57 people, "that is designed to eliminate the gang's leadership and drastically shrink the ranks of a criminal enterprise that calls itself Barrio Hawaiian Gardens," U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien told reporters.

Some 1,400 officers, including sheriff's deputies and agents of the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, took part in the raids.

O'Brien said it marked "the largest federal gang sweep in the history of the Department of Justice."

Suspected members of the predominantly Latino gang are accused of, among other things, drug trafficking and targeting black residents of the community in racially charged attacks.

The investigation of the gang was sparked by the June 2005 slaying of a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy by a gang member.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney, Thom Mrozek, said that in addition the 88 arrested on Thursday, 32 others were already in custody on other charges.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Xavier Briand)

Article Published: 21/05/2009