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Raids target
drugs, gangs

Officers arrest 350 in 3-day
operation in North Alabama

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

BOAZ — A three-day sweep targeting drug dealing and gang activity in Northeast Alabama resulted in the arrest of more than 350 people in what authorities described Friday as the largest such U.S. operation in more than a year.

The project, called "Operation Clean Sweep," was largely in response to allegations about methamphetamine dealing and Latin American gangs operating in a rural section of DeKalb County, authorities said. More than 40 law enforcement agencies were involved in the raids, which took place in five counties.

Only one verified gang member was arrested and the overwhelming majority of people in custody were U.S. natives. But officers said the mass arrests were the start of a larger investigation that could result in more cases.

Raids not over

"It's not over. There will be a number of leads and a number of investigations that result from this," said Jim Phillips, an assistant federal prosecutor from Birmingham.

Assistant FBI Director Kenneth Kaiser said the arrests were part of a national fight against gangs, particularly violent groups that have spread from Latin America to the United States amid a wave of Hispanic immigration.

"This week's searches and arrests represent one of the largest combined law enforcement operations to remove narcotics distributors, gang members and violent offenders from our streets in recent history," Kaiser said.

The arrests were conducted Tuesday through Thursday in Marshall, DeKalb, Etowah, St. Clair and Blount counties.

Rob Lasky, unit chief for the FBI's gang and criminal enterprise section in Washington, said 213 people were arrested on felony charges — mainly for drug offenses — and 142 more were arrested on misdemeanor charges. Troopers gave out more than 920 tickets during roadblocks conducted during the operation.

While only one of the suspects was a known gang member based on a past federal prison record, Lasky said others were believed to be involved with Latin American gangs that have left buildings, roads and parking lots covered with graffiti.

District Attorney Mike O'Dell said the sweep resulted partly from suspicions that methamphetamine made in Mexico was being smuggled into Alabama and sold in the Kilpatrick community, an isolated area where hundreds of immigrants live in dozens of mobile homes off dirt roads.

The arrests and a series of 20 searches started days after an e-mail circulated in the area warning of murderous initiation rituals by Hispanic gang members, but authorities said the arrests weren't linked to the rumors, which investigators determined to be unfounded.

"All of it was untrue," said Fort Payne Police Chief David Walker.

Walker said secrecy surrounding three days of arrests — which authorities refused to explain until the news conference — didn't help rumors and fears in his town.

"There were rumors that we were down there having wars with gangs," he said.

Authorities said they seized almost 30 guns, including several assault rifles and sawed-off shotguns, along with illegal drugs such as cocaine and crystal meth. Among those arrested were two previously deported illegal immigrants and a convicted sex offender.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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