TAMPA — Operation Red Dawn started with a drive-by shooting, spawned a 10-month investigation and resulted in the arrest of 11 gang members, each facing at least 30 years in prison.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, in conjunction with the Office of Statewide Prosecution and the Plant City Police Department, completed the investigation Monday, arresting 11 primary Norteños gang members. Each faces racketeering charges for crimes including aggravated battery, robbery, aggravated assault and homicide.
In May and June of 2012, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office noticed a significant increase in gang-related violence in east Hillsborough, including a series of drive-by shootings in which one person was shot and wounded and survived. That victim was a gang member, and deputies suspected other gang members were involved.
"It was at this time that Sheriff (David) Gee decided it was time to send another strong message out to these gang members and stop the storm of violence that they were creating," Col. Donna Lusczynski said. "The sheriff has always made it a priority that we would not allow these gangs to gain a foothold in our community, so that we don't have the problems some of the big cities face."
Deputies enlisted the assistance of the statewide prosecutor and Plant City police and launched an investigation into the Norteños, who are based on a criminal street gang from California. The gang, which also goes by Norte 14, identifies with the color red and the number 14. Their typical rival is the Sureños gang, which identifies with the color blue and the number 13.
The suspects were identified within Hillsborough County but were linked to crimes in Polk, Pasco and Manatee counties, Lusczynski said.
The suspects, whose ages range from 17 to 27, were involved with criminal acts including homicides, robberies, aggravated batteries, drug trafficking and criminal mischief involving graffiti.
"These individuals you see here … are the worst of the worst," Lusczynski said Monday. "Today our streets are much safer with these subjects off them."
Lusczynski also recognized the members of community who "stood up to these individuals and decided it was time to fight back."
Deputies arrested 10 members of the Cross-Fletcher Hot Boys in late 2010 on racketeering and other charges. They were sentenced to a total of 119 years in prison. The gang dominated drug trade in a north Tampa neighborhood and was implicated in a string of homicides, armed robberies and shootings, said the attorney general's office.
Attorney General Pam Bondi praised prosecutor Dan Weisman, who worked on cases for both the Hot Boys and the Norteños.
"This guy has been working tirelessly for 10 months," Bondi said. "I was sitting in his office a few months ago and I couldn't even look around the walls because it was covered with this case. These are very, very complex cases."
Bondi said each suspect faces a minimum of 30 years in Florida state prison.
"And I can tell you, look at the predicate acts, homicide, firearms, drug dealing, aggravated batteries," Bondi said. "They are the worst of the worst, and they are now off of our streets."
Arrested were Nahum Calderon, 25; Sergio Calderon, 21; Michael Angelo Lugo, 22; Adrian Mata, 24; Oscar Ontiveros, 22; Francisco Miguel Quiroz, 17; Joseph Rondon, 24; Jonathan Rondon, 27; Domingo Rosales, 22; Paul Lee Anthony Sanchez, 24; Michael Irvin Workman, 19.
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.