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SALT LAKE CITY -- A four-month operation led to a record number of arrests of gang members or those with gang ties in Utah, and most of them are in the country illegally.
As this operation makes clear, now it's the gang members that have something to fear.
Authorities say this was the largest enforcement effort of its kind in Utah. Led by the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, police targeted members of dangerous transnational street gangs.
"The operation targeted individuals in 23 communities statewide," said Kumar Kibble, special agent in charge of ICE in the Rocky Mountain region.
"For too long, street gangs here and elsewhere have used violence and intimidation to hold communities hostage," Kibble continued. "As this operation makes clear, now it's the gang members that have something to fear."
Mario Garcia Castro, of Provo, was among those arrested. Authorities say Castro, a known gang member, offered to pay a friend $200 to beat up his pregnant girlfriend so she'd miscarry.
"When the state's criminal case is completed, Garcia will come into ICE custody and we will seek to remove him from the country," Kibble said.
Over four months, ICE and local law enforcement officers nabbed 158 people -- all gang members or affiliated with gangs. Most of them are in the country illegally.
Of those arrested, 93 face federal and state criminal charges that include solicitation to commit aggravated murder, forcible sexual abuse and illegal re-entry.
The remaining 65 will not be charged with a crime, but they either face deportation or have already been deported.
"This was a good time for us to show there is a lot being done in the immigration area, and that we enjoy unprecedented cooperation with local law enforcement," said U.S. Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen.
Authorities say the group has ties to more than 50 street gangs. Local police say many of them are behind crimes in their cities.
"I hope our residents understand that we're not only getting rid of gang members, but we're also affecting so many other crimes that certainly happen in our communities," said South Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Snyder.
"Gang violence is something that is not isolated to the larger metropolitan areas. These gang members will infiltrate these small communities where they feel they can actually live in virtual anonymity," said Jon Lines, assistant special agent in charge of ICE in the Rocky Mountain region.
The operation in Utah will be an ongoing effort and is part of ICE's anti-gang nationwide initiative.
Breakdown of arrests by community
|Salt Lake City area||Ogden area||Provo area||St. George area|
|Salt Lake City||17||Ogden||18||Provo||29||St. George||29|
|Park City||8||Brigham City||2||Delta||1||Santa Clara||1|
|West Valley City||6||Logan||1||Heber City||Cedar City||1|
|South Salt Lake||5||Hyrum||1|
----- Story compiled with contributions form Sandra Yi and Randall Jeppesen.