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Gang sweeps yield 40 arrests

By CASEY CORA
Published June 12, 2007


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BRANDON - When vandals taunted Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee with profane graffiti, he rebutted with one response, and offered it only to his deputies: "Keep the pressure up."

"Gangs wanted attention, and we were ready to give it to them, " he said.

On Monday, dozens of officers with nine local, state and federal law enforcement agencies descended on area neighborhoods, targeting illegal gang activity prevalent in eastern Hillsborough.

The roundup concluded a 10-month investigation dubbed "Operation: Pura Tranza, " named from Sunday's arrest of 19-year-old Gilberto Villanueva, suspected of being leader of the Sur 13 gang.

The mantra - which translates into "pure business" - was tattooed over his shaved eyebrows.

Authorities secured nearly 60 warrants and indictments for gang members and their associates. Forty people have been arrested so far.

The sweeps were funded by a 2006 initiative aimed at tackling the hottest gang zones in the country. Tampa was one of six areas to receive a $2.5-million share of $15-million in federal funds.

Authorities singled out one gang in Seffner for their involvement in more than 365 recent crimes.

"To many people living in Seffner, each of these defendants had a greater impact on their community than some cartel leader in Colombia, " said Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry Furr.

Other gangs' members - including those from Latin Life, Latin Kings, West Side and the Mexican Mafia - were also arrested in connection with various drugs and weapons charges.

During the investigation, undercover detectives purchased 37 firearms, including several handguns and more than a dozen rifles, including a bayonet.

Ballistics experts will determine whether the guns could be linked to previous crimes.

At a morning news conference, Gee stood beside boxes of ammunition, several seized bags of marijuana and small bags of crack cocaine - the drugs he said bankroll gang violence.

"This is an absolute priority in this community, " Gee said. "You don't have to spray-paint a message on the side of a building for us to know you're there."

Casey Cora can be reached at 813 226-3386 or at ccora@sptimes.com.

[Last modified June 12, 2007, 01:55:05]


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