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By Marc GiauqueSALT LAKE CITY -- Federal immigration agents and local authorities say they've now arrested 76 people in Utah, in a sweeping two-month investigation involving violent gang members who are illegally in the United States.
The arrests involved gang members from Ogden to St. George. Assistant Special Agent in Charge of Investigations at the Salt Lake Office Jonathan Lines said these arrested are not the run of the mill crooks.
"These are pledged, jumped in, hardened, tattooed, violent, offending gang members," he said. "I want to make sure the Utah public understands that this element is in our communities."
"These are individuals involved in drive-by shootings, involved in home invasions, involved in terrorizing the general public and immigrants and U.S. Citizens and lawful permanent residents alike," he said.
Among those charged federally is a 34-year-old Honduran national with ties to the Sureno 13 street gang who has been previously deported at least five times. Guadalupe Alfredo Melendez-Laine was taken into custody by ICE agents in Salt Lake City August 12. Melendez has a lengthy criminal record, including numerous prior arrests and convictions, including a local arrest two years ago for possession and distribution of heroin. The documented gang member is charged with re-entry after deportation, a violation that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Also charged with re-entry after deportation is Juan Castillo-Ortiz, 26, a Mexican national and member of the Brown Pride street gang. Castillo-Ortiz, whose criminal history includes prior arrests for weapons violations and felony drug charges, was arrested by ICE agents in Salt Lake City Aug. 27.
Thirty-six of the gang members and gang associates arrested in Utah over the last two months are facing federal or state criminal prosecution on charges ranging from re-entry after deportation to murder and drug possession.
The remaining 40 gang members and gang associates are foreign nationals who are being processed for deportation.