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Sheriff tries to tame gang activity

By DEMORRIS LEE
Published September 20, 2005


TAMPA - Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee wants Tampa and its neighboring communities to be different. Gee wants the metropolitan allure without those big city issues. That's why his office has "tried to get its arms around" a fledgling gang problem in the county.

After an intensive six-month focus on the western portion of the county, Gee is confident that residents and those who participate in gang activity now know that law enforcement officials are taking aggressive steps to minimize gang activity.

"With big cities come big city problems," Gee said Monday after a press conference on gang activity at Jackson Springs Park in the Town 'N Country area. "We want to make Tampa different from those cities that have gang problems."

Displaying a huge poster board with pictures of those recently arrested and identified as gang members, Gee praised local and federal authorities for assisting in the six-month effort that netted 105 arrests. Of those arrested, 52 were certified as gang members and the others were gang affiliates.

"We have seen an emerging gang problem," said Sgt. Scott Wellinger, the sheriff's official in charge of the county's year-old gang task force. "(This operation) will convey to the community that we are taking a proactive step, and hopefully this will encourage them to take the same approach."

Wellinger said more than 700 gang members have been identified in the county.

This was the completion of the third major undertaking to identify and prosecute gang activity in the county. According to Monday's results, 12 gangs were identified in the western area of Hillsborough, including at least 14 Bloods, 11 Latin Kings and eight TC Boys. Countywide, Wellinger said the Latin Kings, with 122 identified members, are the largest, followed by the Sur-13s, who have 108 members.

For active gang members, the age ranges from teenagers to 30-year-olds, Wellinger said.

Carl Whitehead of the FBI's Tampa office helped with the Sheriff's Office's recent operation. He said the FBI is monitoring gang activity nationwide. In Tampa, they are paying close attention to MS-13, an El Salvadorian gang with more than 10,000 members nationwide. A handful of MS-13s have been identified and arrested in Hillsborough County. Whitehead said he wants to prevent them from creating a "foothold" in Tampa.

"We are here to look at their structure and organization," Whitehead said after the news conference. "We want to keep them from growing and establishing themselves."

During the gang task force's recent efforts, the arrests ranged from gang members trying to sell nearly 12 pounds of powder cocaine, to possession of heroin to tampering with witnesses. Wellinger said authorities will seek some federal indictments. If convicted, some of the gang members will be deported.

--Staff writer Demorris Lee can be reached at 813 269-5312 or dalee@sptimes.com

[Last modified September 20, 2005, 01:54:19]


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