Salt Lake City criminal attorneys debate value of racketeering charges to take down gangs
In this article published through National Public Radio, journalists take a closer look into Salt Lake City’s gang scene which, they report, is surprisingly extensive and complex. The sprawling valley community sees gang violence in clans like the Tiny Oriental Posse and Soldiers of Aryan Culture. Law enforcement officers say gangs tend to have race-related roots—Asian, Latino, white supremacist—though affiliation doesn’t always require that members be of the same race. The most recently famous gang in the city, the Tongan Crip Gang, or TCG, has been receiving attention since a TCG member was shot and killed by a U.S. Marshall in a federal courthouse, while both family and members as well as Salt Lake City criminal attorneys and the judges looked on.
Salt Lake police officer Sgt. Lex Bell was interviewed for the NPR story, and reports that not a night on shift goes by without officers’ running into gang activity from numerous different group. Leveraging spies and information, Bells says, “We live and die by intelligence,” in their efforts to root out gangs and dismember their collective power and control over the seedy and criminal workings of the Salt Lake valley. But it’s the TCG that continues to get attention by the press and news media, and not just for the intra-courtroom violence. The 25 year-old Siale Angilau who was shot by the U.S. marshal was being defended by Salt Lake City criminal attorneys for charges of racketeering under federal statutes.
One TCG member spoke up about the injustice of the SLCPD’s strategy to use federal racketeering charges: Mataika Tuai has served a five-year federal prison sentence, but points to his activities as youthful indiscretions. “We were doing things when we were young. You know what I mean? Stealing chips. Steeling beer. I’m not saying it’s good; it’s not. … Nobody is making money at all. I sure didn’t.” Some Salt Lake City criminal attorneys like Clay A. Alger emphasize that although the gang members are reportedly being unfairly indicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the breadth of their criminal activity likely goes beyond stealing beer –something federal prosecutors are eager to corroborate.
RICO “was originally created to take down the mafia,” and the Salt Lake City criminal attorneys defending TCG members say that “the crimes these young men committed do not merit federal RICO charges.” RICO was designed to target criminal enterprise that had a vertical structure and made money, which isn’t reflective of how the TCG operate (or many other gangs in the valley, for that matter).
Regardless, the federal prosecutors going after the TCG say that “the gang is responsible for numerous assaults, armed robberies, and even murder – all efforts to protect and expand the gang’s presence in the Salt Lake valley,” and Sgt. Bell tells NPR that “sometimes RICO is the only way to send a message to criminals.” Attorneys like Stewart acknowledge that it’s difficult to talk about fairness of charges under the law when a community’s basic safety is continually at stake. It appears that in times like these, the cases have to be about means and ends, and most everyone besides the TCG seems to be okay with that.