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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 18, 2006

Aliens with gang ties turn up in Isles

By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer

Federal, state and county law-enforcement officials are concerned about the number of illegal aliens turning up in Hawai'i who have ties to international street gangs linked to drug distribution, prostitution, drive-by shootings, alien smuggling and attacks on law-enforcement officers.

During the past 12 months, nine aliens have been arrested in Hawai'i who have ties to various criminal gangs, law enforcement officials said yesterday.

According to information presented at a press briefing, two of the nine men were Vietnamese nationals with ties to the Vietnamese "Black Crew" gang; four were Mexican and affiliated with the Surenos gang; two were from El Salvador with suspected ties to a gang called MS-13; and one was from South Korea and was believed to be affiliated with the Ciro gang.

U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo described MS-13 as a "particularly vicious" criminal organization and said it has an estimated worldwide membership of about 50,000. About 10,000 members are believed to be in the United States, spread out among more than 30 states, including Hawai'i.

In its current issue, Newsweek magazine calls MS-13 one of the most dangerous street gangs in America.

Although the nine men arrested have ties to violent organizations, their gang affiliations were established after they were arrested for relatively minor offenses such as traffic violations, possession of small amounts of drugs, misdemeanor domestic abuse, driving under the influence, possessing burglary tools and car theft.

But Maui County Police Chief Thomas Phillips said investigators believe alien gang members may also have been responsible for shooting at Maui police officers who were attending an off-duty barbecue.

"The migration of Mainland and foreign street gang members to Maui County and Hawai'i (in general) is a disturbing trend," Phillips said.

For the most part, background checks after their arrests uncovered the gang affiliations of the nine men, officials said.

Wayne Wills, special agent in charge for investigations undertaken by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Hawai'i, said street gangs "pose a growing safety threat to communities throughout Hawai'i.

"The violence, sophistication and scope of these organizations have reached intolerable levels in larger metropolitan areas," Wills said. "We are committed to partnering with our local, state and federal associates to dismantle these criminal organizations and prevent them from embedding in our communities."

Six of the nine men with suspected gang ties were arrested on Maui and the other three on O'ahu. Seven of the nine appeared to have entered the country illegally, across either the Canadian or Mexican border, Wills said. Once in the U.S., the men probably took domestic flights to Hawai'i and were able to enter the state without any immigration screening, Wills said.

Two of the nine men arrested during the past year had been deported to their home countries on at least one previous occasion and entered the U.S. again illegally.

Javier Martinez-Arrellano was arrested on Maui in August 2005. He had prior convictions on the Mainland for carrying a concealed weapon and stealing vehicles, according to a background synopsis presented at the briefing yesterday. He was convicted in federal court in Honolulu of re-entering the United States illegally since his deportation and was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison.

Officials say Martinez-Arrellano, a Mexican national, is affiliated with the Surenos and 18th Street gangs.

Reach David Waite at dwaite@honoluluadvertiser.com.