A few hours ago, California Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate) Jerry Brown announced a multi-county gang sweep aimed at Nuestra Familia, a powerful prison-based gang that controls illegal activity in state correctional facilities and, through the Norteno street gang, communities throughout Northern California.
Operation Street Sweeper is part of an ongoing crackdown on the two intertwined groups Both Nuestra Familia and the Nortenos were the targets of two gang sweeps earlier this year, the fruits of a collaboration between local, state and federal law enforcement that began at a 2009 gang summit in Salinas.
Thirty-six gang members, including four leaders of local sets, were arrested by more than 250 federal, state, and local law enforcement agents from the Central Coast to the Central Valley, including officers from Visalia, Salinas, and Yuba City. According to Visalia Police and the Attorney General’s Office, Nuestra Familia has orchestrated a rash of violent crime in the city against rival Sureno and Asian gangs, as well as its own uncooperative soldiers: There have been 30 gang-related violent crimes this year through August, up from 30 at the same point in 2009.
This morning, the Monterey Herald reported that 33-year-old Phillip Sparks, the alleged leader of Nuestra Familia’s operations in the Salinas area, was taken into federal custody along with alleged associates Martin Martinez, 32, and Armando Valle, 36. The three were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine in several Central Valley counties. Twelve other people were charged with narcotics distribution counts by the United States Attorney for Eastern California, 11 of whom are in custody. Four individuals remain at large.
A full list of state charges will not be available until tomorrow, according to California Department of Justice Spokesperson Michelle Quinn.
Brown said that three Nuestra Familia generals (David Cervantes, Matt Rocha and Anthony Guillen) incarcerated in the Secure Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City still run their organization by passing messages to other prisoners, who communicate with the outside world through messages written into books or other property, passing information through visiting family members and attorneys, and making calls from cellphones smuggled into prisons.
In order to crack down on cellphone communications in particular, Brown said he is looking into using jamming technology to block unauthorized transmissions. However, California’s top cop said this step would require changes in federal law to allow the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to use such technology.
Did I mention Brown is running for governor this November? He definitely played the role of law and order candidate today, calling gangs a “cancer that is eating away at the heart of our society.” Brown also advocated indeterminate sentences for serious gang offenders and the curtailing of communications between prisoners and the outside world.
It is unclear whether this latest crackdown will have a lasting effect on Nuestra Familia’s activities in California’s prisons and communities. Operation Black Widow, begun in the late 1990′s, was supposed to put an end to Nuestra Familia.