FBI operation nabs gang members

April 23, 2009 8:36:54 PM PDT
Operation Lunar Eclipse is in effect. Federal authorities are trying to put the lights out on a gang of dangerous thugs they say are responsible for trafficking drugs and firearms to help support their buddies in prison.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Their target is a prison and street gang called Raza Unida. After three years of investigating, several suspected gang members were put in cuffs Thursday, and drugs and guns were taken off the streets.

Four of 15 suspects were read their rights by a federal judge. Each say they understand the allegations against them.

Ramon Pena, 29, Rene Ruiz, 36, Pedro Muniz, 36, and Gilberto Espinosa, 28, all appeared in handcuffs. The U.S. Attorney on the case told the judge that all of the men posed a flight risk and a danger to the community if released, so the judge issued a temporary order of detention keeping them in custody at least until a hearing next week.

According to an 11-page indictment just unsealed Thursday, the men and 11 others were arrested following a three-year, multi-agency investigation which tracked their alleged trafficking of cocaine and methamphetamine. They're also accused of possessing illegal firearms and money laundering to profit their gang.

The U.S. Attorney's Office says the men are all part of the prison and street gang called Raza Unida, well-known for its criminal exploits. Eyewitness News' National Security Expert James Conway says it should come as no surprise that this operation occurred in part in Houston.

"The big, big moneymaker for all gangs today is drug trafficking. The link that we're concerned about today is the link between the violence along the border and that of gang activity in the United States," said Conway.

The FBI is still looking for one man. They sent us his picture in the hope that someone might recognize him and turn him in. His name is Henry B. Garcia, also known as "Shorty." He is from the Victoria area and there is a warrant for him outstanding in relation to this case.

The Department of Justice also wants you to see tattoos known to belong to members of Raza Unida. The tattoos commonly show an "R" and a "U.''

If you have any information that can help authorities find Garcia, you are urged to call the FBI at 713-695-5000.

The remaining suspects who have been arrested are scheduled to appear here in court on Friday.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice classifies 12 groups as security threats behind bars. That includes Raza Unida. Prisoners who have been identified as belonging to those groups can be cut off from contact visits and separated from the general prison population. Before that inmate is allowed back into the general population, they have to renounce their membership and affiliation with the group.

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