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Gang suspects appear in court

Several alleged gang members, arrested in a recent countywide sweep, were arraigned.

December 21, 2006|By Kelly Strodl and Michael Alexander

More than 300 officers from several law enforcement agencies recently assisted in a massive sweep across Orange County, which led to the arrest of 57 alleged members of a white supremacist gang with strong ties to Huntington Beach.

Some of the alleged members of the Public Enemy Number 1 (PEN1) street gang arrested in the Dec. 14 sweeps appeared in court Friday and Monday to answer allegations. Charges included possession of illegal weapons and narcotics, forgery and identity theft, said Sgt. Rick Martinez of the Anaheim Police Department, the officer in charge of public information for the sweep.

Many of the other suspects might not face prosecution for weeks as attorneys consider whether to build a larger case, said Susan Schroeder, a spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney's office.

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A 2004 California Department of Justice report called PEN1 "one of the most powerful and fastest-growing gangs, inside and outside prison." It went on to note that every known member had been arrested multiple times, and members have previously assaulted law enforcement officers. PEN1 has ties to the Nazi Low Riders and Aryan Brotherhood prison gangs, according to the Anti-Defamation League's website.

Law enforcement agencies were responding to reports of death threats by gang members against Orange County law enforcement officials. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the names of five police officers and an Orange County prosecutor were on the list.

Anaheim police, who led the effort, have not released a list of names of those arrested, saying the operation was large and suspects were booked in many locations throughout the county.

Despite the gang's history with the city of Huntington Beach, not one alleged member was arrested in city limits.

According to Det. Mark Garcia of the department's Bunco Forgery Unit, the gang was known for committing identity theft and credit fraud, but police do not believe they were involved with the stealing of nearly 70 credit numbers from a Huntington Beach Ralphs supermarket in October.

Members of this gang usually focus on mortgage and mail-type fraud, Garcia said.

Two men have been caught on tape using the stolen numbers from the Ralphs' thefts to withdraw money from ATMs in the Los Angeles area. The descriptions of the men caught on tape do not match anyone arrested in the raids, but Huntington police believe the thieves sold the numbers.

"I have never seen Public Enemy Number One do anything like this," Garcia said. "From what we've seen and the pictures of those [suspects making withdrawals], we don't believe they are involved."

"But anything is possible."

A similar countywide raid in March brought about the arrest of more than 20 members of the gang.

According to a news release from Anaheim police, the investigation into the gang has gone on for about a month, and prior arrests in the investigation bring the total of alleged members arrested to 66.

The Thursday-morning sweep involved 37 teams of officers from municipal, county, state and federal agencies bearing search warrants for all the locations involved.

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