Nearly 1,000 gang members and associates from 239 different gangs were arrested in 282 cities across the U.S. during Project Wildfire, a six-week operation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The operation targeted transnational criminal gangs and others associated with transnational criminal activity.
“Criminal gangs inflict violence and fear upon our communities, and without the attention of law enforcement, these groups can spread like a cancer,” ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña said. “That’s why ICE works with law enforcement partners around the country to stamp out gang activity wherever it takes place.”
Project Wildfire was a surge operation led by the HSI National Gang Unit and ran Feb. 23 to March 31. HSI special agents worked with 215 state, local and federal law enforcement partners, including ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), to apprehend individuals from various gangs.
This operation was part of HSI’s Operation Community Shield, a global initiative, where HSI collaborates with federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to combat the growth and proliferation of transnational criminal street gangs, prison gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs in the United States and abroad. Through its domestic and international Operation Community Shield task forces, HSI leverages its worldwide presence and expansive statutory and civil enforcement authorities to mitigate the threats posted by these global networks, often through the tracing and seizing of cash, weapons and other illicit proceeds.
Most of the individuals arrested during Project Wildfire were U.S. citizens, but 199 foreign nationals were also arrested, from 18 countries in South and Central America, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean.
Of the individuals arrested, 976 were gang members and associates. HSI agents also arrested – or assisted in the arrest – of 231 other individuals on federal and/or state criminal violations and administrative immigration violations, for a total of 1,207 arrests. Of the total 1,207 arrested, 1,057 were males and 150 were females.
Of the 976 gang members or associates arrested: 913 were charged with criminal offenses and 63 were arrested administratively for immigration violations; 650 had violent criminal histories, including 19 individuals wanted on active warrants for murder and 15 for rape or sexual assault; and 199 were foreign nationals, of which 151 were gang members and gang associates.
The majority of arrestees were affiliated with the Sureños, Norteños, Bloods, Crips, Puerto Rican-based gangs and several prison-based gangs.
Enforcement actions occurred around the country, with the greatest activity taking place in the San Juan, Dallas, El Paso, Los Angeles and Detroit HSI areas.
Enforcement actions conducted during Project Wildfire include:
- In Puerto Rico and central Florida, 46 members of the Zorrilla criminal organization were arrested for various charges of manufacturing and distributing narcotics, money laundering and other related criminal activity.
- In Lubbock, Texas, HSI special agents and task force officers arrested 122 known or suspected gang members and associates from the Bloods, Crips Rollin 60s, Mexican Mafia, Sureños, West Texas, Raza Unida, Aryan Brotherhood, White Aryan Resistance, West Side, Gangster Disciples, Peckerwood, Texas Syndicate and West Texas Tango.
- In the Detroit area, HSI special agents and task force officers arrested 89 gang members and associates with ties to gangs such as the Latin Counts, Folk Nation, Sureños and Atherton Terrace.
- In the Chicago area, HSI special agents arrested 30 gang members and affiliates with ties to the Sureños 13, Latin Kings, La Raza, Conservative Vice Lords, Gangster Disciples, 4 Corner Hustlers, Maniac Latin Disciples and the Vice Lords.
- In California’s Imperial Valley, HSI special agents arrested 28 individuals, including 10 documented gang members of the Brole, North Side Centro, West Side Centro, South Side Centro and Pilgrim Street gangs.
HSI special agents also seized 82 firearms, 5.2 kilograms of methamphetamine, 7.8 kilograms of marijuana, 5.6 kilograms of cocaine, 1.5 kilograms of heroin, $379,399 in U.S currency, counterfeit merchandise with a manufactures suggested retail price of $547,534 and five vehicles during Project Wildfire.
Since the inception of Operation Community Shield in February 2005, HSI special agents working in conjunction with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have arrested more than 36,000 street gang members and associates linked to more than 2,600 different gangs. At least 46 percent of those arrested had a violent criminal history. More than 490 of those arrested were gang leaders, and more than 4,700 were MS-13 gang members or associates. Through this initiative, HSI has seized more than 6,600 firearms nationally.