Authorities have arrested 17 members and associates of the Wilmas street gang who are named in a federal racketeering indictment.
It alleges acts of murder, attempted murder, narcotics trafficking, robbery and witness intimidation – as well as a series of armed attacks on law enforcement officers dating back to 2008, according to officials.
The 17 people arrested Wednesday are among 29 defendants named in a 111-page indictment that alleges violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
The arrests were made by officers with the Los Angeles Police Department, special agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement authorities, including the United States Marshals Service and the FBI.
In addition to those arrested during the Operation “Tidal Wave,” 10 defendants were already in custody on unrelated charges. Authorities are continuing to search for two defendants.
During the course of the investigation, law enforcement seized nearly eight pounds of methamphetamine and 10 firearms, including one linked to a shooting, according to authorities.
“This federal indictment seeks to dismantle the leadership of the Wilmas street gang, a particularly violent street gang that regularly targets members of the community and law enforcement officers for murder,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The devastating impact that this gang has had on the community cannot be overstated, but today’s takedown will help to restore order across Wilmington and ensure that those responsible for the violence and other criminal acts will be taken off the streets for years.”
Operation Tidal Wave targeted the Wilmas gang, which has operated in the Wilmington District of Los Angeles since the 1950s and is affiliated with the Mexican Mafia. As a “surenos” gang, the Wilmas gang “is loyal to, supports and contributes to the Mexican Mafia,” according to the indictment, which outlines how leaders of the prison gang issues orders to kill rival gang members and members of law enforcement.
The federal indictment unsealed Wednesday outlines a criminal enterprise that controls the drug trade in Wilmington, collects “taxes” from drug dealers for the benefit of Mexican Mafia members, maintains a supply of often-illegal firearms, and takes retribution against people who may be cooperating with law enforcement.
Wilmas gang members murdered two 16-year-old victims on February 26, 2012, according to the indictment.
“The Wilmas gang is also a racist organization and has been historically antagonistic to the presence of African-Americans in Wilmas gang territory,” the indictment alleges. “Wilmas gang members have frequently targeted African-Americans who enter or attempt to reside within the area claimed by the Wilmas gang.”
Operation Tidal Wave was conducted under the auspices of the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force, which is coordinated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“This joint investigation targeted a very violent and ruthless criminal gang that has terrorized the citizens of Wilmington for too long,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Steve Comer. “The HIDTA Task Force is dedicated to dismantling the most prolific, local area drug trafficking organizations and today’s actions demonstrate that commitment – we’re allied with our law enforcement partners to make our communities safer.”
The 31-count indictment alleges a conspiracy to violate RICO; numerous criminal offenses that violated the RICO statute, including murder, distribution of methamphetamine, extortion, and witness tampering; violent crimes in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to trafficking narcotics, possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and one defendant is accused of being a felon in possession of a shotgun.
The defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
A former deputy U.S. Marshall was sentenced Monday to 15 months in federal prison after being convicted of obstruction of justice in connection with lies he told to police after he fatally shot a man, officials said.
U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez Itkowitz sentenced Matthew Itkowitz, 47, who now lives in Suffern, New York.
The conviction was based on false statements Itkowitz made to Los Angeles Police Department homicide detectives following his fatal shooting of a man in West Hollywood in March of 2008, according to authorities.
Authorities said Itkowitz falsely characterized an altercation that led to the shooting, and his version of events was contradicted by a video made by a security camera in the alley where the shooting took place.
In addition to obstruction of justice, officials stated Itkowitz was charged with violating the victim’s constitutional rights to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer.
During the trial, Judge Gutierrez granted a defense motion for judgment of acquittal on that charge and a related gun charge.
The jury that convicted Itkowitz also acquitted him of an obstruction of justice charge related to statements he made to a supervisor at the U.S. Marshals Service.
“Law enforcement officers are not above the law,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The actions of this defendant tarnished the outstanding work of law enforcement throughout the district and the nation and have earned him a significant federal prison sentence.”
The FBI conducted the investigation in this case.
A federal judge today sentenced brothers Raees Alam Qazi, 22, and Sheheryar Alam Qazi, 32, both naturalized U.S. citizens from Pakistan, to 35 years and 20 years in prison for terrorism and assaulting two deputy U.S. Marshals while in custody, federal officials said.
“With the sentences handed down today, Raees Qazi and his brother Sheheryar Qazi are being held accountable for their roles in a plot to conduct a terrorist attack using a weapon of mass destruction in New York City and their assault on two federal officers during their pretrial detention,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Carlin. “This case highlights our commitment to pursue any individuals who would seek to conduct an attack on U.S. soil or to injure law enforcement officials who risk their lives to protect us. I want to thank the U.S. Marshals, agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this successful result.”
On March 12, 2015, Raees Alam Qazi plead guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists in preparation for the use of a weapon of mass destruction, one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and one count of conspiring to assault a federal employee.
Sherheyar Alam Qazi plead guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists in preparation for the use of a weapon of mass destruction and one count of conspiring to assault a federal employee.
This is the evidence against the brothers that was presented in federal court, according to authorities.
- Raees Alam Qazi was going to initiate an attack using a weapon of mass destruction in New York City and that he had been financially and emotionally supported by his older brother, Sheheryar Alam Qazi, who encouraged him to launch the attack.
- Sheheryar Alam Qazi had encouraged his younger brother to travel from Pakistan to Afghanistan in 2011, and that when Raees Alam Qazi had been unsuccessful in his attempt to enter Afghanistan, he returned to his older brother.
- Raees Alam Qazi had been trying to reach the “guys from Yemen” aka Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on the internet and that they told him not to come to Afghanistan because there were enough people, but instead suggested they do something in the United States.
- Raees Alam Qazi had taken “hints” from an Arabian Peninsula online publication entitled Inspire Magazine, including building an explosive device using Christmas tree light bulbs.
- Raees Alam Qazi used information in Inspire to communicate with Arabian Peninsula, and that his communications with Al Qaeda dealt with his desires to launch an attack in the United States.
- Raees Alam Qazi travelled to New York in November 2012 to conduct an attack with a weapon of mass destruction while Sheheryar Alam Qazi actively misled friends and family members about Raees Alam Qazi’s true whereabouts and activities.
- Raees Alam Qazi called Sheheryar Alam Qazi from New York to notify him that he had not been successful in his task. Sheheryar Alam Qazi encouraged Raees Alam Qazi to return to “practice over here [Florida] then you may return [to New York] you know…. I will give you complete freedom.”
The brothers additionally admitted their participation in a conspiracy to assault federal officers.
On April 8, 2014, the Qazi brothers admitted that while being moved within the federal courthouse in Miami, the brothers punched two deputy U.S. Marshals in the face and struggled with them and attempted to use potentially lethal force on them.
Raees Alam Qazi and Sheheryar Alam Qazi simultaneously exclaimed “Allahu Akbar,” an Arabic exhortation meaning “God is Great” while struggling with U.S. Marshals.
“The threat of a terrorist attack against innocent Americans is real as demonstrated by the actions of these two brothers,” said U.S. Marshal and Special Agent in Charge George Piro. “The fact that their terrorist aspirations were cut short didn’t stop Raees and Sheheryar Qazi from attempting to use potentially lethal force against two U.S. Marshals while they were in custody. This case highlights outstanding work and team effort of our South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force.”