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Suburbs gang sweep nets 66 arrests

Published April 13, 2005

BRANDON - Shootouts in subdivisions, drug sales in local parks, gang members shoplifting at convenience stores.

Not your idea of suburban tranquility?

Maybe not, but those are the scenes playing out in Tampa's suburbs, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee, who is trying to crush a growing gang and drug problem. As part of ongoing sweeps by the Gang Task Force, Gee announced Tuesday the arrests of 66 people over two months - including 17 gang members and five associates - on charges ranging from murder to burglary to drug distribution.

Most of the crimes occurred where the majority of the defendants live, in the Heather Lakes and Plantation Key subdivision area near Brandon, Gee said, adding that these arrests won't be the last.

"This is not a sprint, this is going to be a marathon in this county," Gee said during a press conference held at Heather Lakes Park south of Lumsden Road.

The FBI has agreed to join efforts with the county's gang task force.

At the center of the recent arrests was a local, loosely knit gang called "The City Squad," plus several other groups operating in the area known as "The Untouchables," "Raw Dogs" and "FAM."

The task force conducted surveillance and undercover work to figure out the source of the area's problems - among them, a shootout in the subdivision, drug dealing, home and car burglaries and thefts at local gas stations. At the stores, the gang members would walk inside, stare down the clerk, pick up what they wanted and walk out, Gee said.

The Sheriff's Office has seized more than $42,000 in firearms, cash and drugs from the group, Gee said. Those arrested ranged from older juveniles to adults.

Gee said the problem won't be solved soon, especially if parents don't pay attention to their children.

"We need parental involvement in preventing kids from getting into gangs," he said.

In an earlier sweep in January, 42 people, most of them alleged members of rival gangs in eastern Hillsborough, were arrested on drug and firearms trafficking charges as part of a crackdown on illegal gangs.

The Sheriff's Office has held three town hall meetings this year on gang awareness. The next one will be at 6:30 p.m. April 27 at Leto High School.

Neighbors were thrilled Tuesday by news of the arrests.

Rita Small, vice president of the Heather Lakes Homeowners Association, said residents began working with the Sheriff's Office after enduring years of drug deals and gang-related beatings nearby.

"I think these kids want something to do and something to fit in with," Small said.

The association has partnered with the Sheriff's Office to hold more activities for children, including a picnic at the park on April 23.

"We've been at this park setting up for movie night and we've seen drug deals," said Ann Carey, an association member. "I've heard people say, "What have I moved here for?"'

Among the 66 people arrested was gang member Fernando Cuevas, 28, charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder. Cuevas was charged in February, accused of fatally shooting Carlos Hernandez Jr., 18, of Plant City, and Victor Lara, 18, of Bradenton. The two were in a car on Forbes Road on June 16, 2002, when they were shot several times.

Of the 65 others arrested in the sweep, 16 are identified as known gang members, including:

--Harry Ford, 26, charged with one count of possession of ammunition and one count of aggravated assault with a firearm.

--Francisco Avila, 19, charged with one count of attempted murder, accused of attacking a gang associate with a crowbar; robbery; grand theft; and criminal mischief.

--David Avila, 18, charged with possession of marijuana and Xanax.

--Daniel Perez, 20, charged with attempted murder connected to the Avila incident; robbery; grand theft and criminal mischief.

--Pedro Peguero, 28, charged with one count of attempted murder connected to the Avila incident.

--Kelvin Johnson, 15, charged with obstruction of justice; violation of probation on theft and trespass; burglary; assault and criminal mischief.

--Yohanse Lamont, 15, burglary, assault, criminal mischief.

--Kareem Duprey, 17, burglary, assault, criminal mischief.

--Michael Lynch, 17, burglary, assault, criminal mischief, obstruction of justice.

--Lakendrick Brady, 20, aggravated assault with a firearm; shooting into a building; criminal mischief.

--Jeremy Fears, 18, conspiracy to possess and deliver Ecstasy.

--Otto Barroso, 16, shooting into a building; aggravated assault with a firearm; criminal mischief.

--Michael Johnson, 17, aggravated assault with a firearm.

--Dempsey Collado, 17, aggravated assault with a firearm.

One man, who was not listed as a gang member, was arrested and accused of being a main supplier for the local drug dealers: Luis Delaespriella, 32, possession of meth and trafficking in Ecstasy.

[Last modified April 13, 2005, 01:29:17]

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