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SALT LAKE CITY — Suspected members of a street gang looking to gain a foothold in Utah are facing federal charges for allegedly taking part in a coast-to-coast cocaine trafficking enterprise.
Police and federal agents in Salt Lake City arrested 11 people associated with the Belizean Bloods, a gang primarily comprised of immigrants from Belize. Authorities say one of them, Jerry D. Johnson, 29, directed the gang's narcotics trade in Chicago. Arrest warrants were issued in Salt Lake City for eight others.
All 19 were named in a 25-count federal indictment unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.
At the same time, federal charges were filed against two dozen suspected Belizean Bloods in Chicago for alleged passport fraud and drug trafficking.
The indictments came after the FBI launched an investigation of the gang in Illinois — Operation Blood Hound and Operation Black Orchid — in 2009. Agents discovered about a year ago that the narcotics distribution route included Utah, said David J. Johnson, FBI special agent in charge in Salt Lake City.
Matt Larson, supervisor of the FBI Safe Streets Task Force, said the Belizeans Bloods weren't previously on local gang units' radar screens.
"We're just starting to see this group become active in Utah," he said, adding the gang is not easy to detect because it takes a "subtle" and "sophisticated" approach to criminal activity. Belizean Bloods, he said, won't be found in clubs where drugs are commonly sold.
In addition to Jerry Johnson, charged in the Utah indictment are:Courey Ottley, 31
Jonathan Philip Benns, 23
Makayla Walls, 18
Javon Brackman, 35
Austin Herron, 24
Maurice Lee, 48
Bladis Bazoko, 27
Robert McIff, 24
Dwayne McCray, 43
Dana Byrd, 48
Simon Diaz, 31
Luis Diaz, 24
Jerry Hunter, 29
Jameson Debow, 19
Perry Williams, 22
Sammy Levels, 39
Amy El-Emar, 29
Leonard Soberanis, 28
"They want to stay below the radar and continue to make money without drawing law enforcement's attention," Larson said.
Johnson said about 150 federal, state and local police officers, including SWAT teams from the FBI, Salt Lake City and West Valley City, raided Salt Lake Valley homes starting about 2 a.m. Wednesday, making 10 arrests without incident. An 11th person was apprehended Friday.
David Johnson would not discuss any evidence authorities seized. During the investigation in Chicago, agents seized bulk amounts of powder and crack cocaine, firearms, assault rifles and cash, according to the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois.
All 11 made appearances in federal court this week. Some were released pending trial, while others remain incarcerated, including alleged ringleader Jerry Johnson.
A former Belizean Bloods member told agents that Jerry Johnson inherited his father’s drug connections when his father was deported to Belize, according to the U.S. attorney in Illinois. Some of his supply sources included narcotics from Belize.
Jerry Johnson allegedly directed the distribution of powder and crack cocaine and “cooked” powder cocaine to produce crack, which was sold in wholesale quantities. The distribution route allegedly included Illinois, Utah, Ohio, Indiana, New York and California.