A seven-month investigation into gang activity in Hillsborough County yielded racketeering charges against seven men, the Sheriff's Office said Wednesday.
The men, whom authorities identified as members of the Southern California-based Sur 13 gang, are accused of being active gang leaders based in east Hillsborough and Polk County.
They were charged Wednesday with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, according to the Sheriff's Office. Known as RICO, the law is intended to combat ongoing criminal enterprises.
The Sheriff's Office opened the investigation, dubbed Operation SURrender, in August. Five of the men were arrested Tuesday, and two others who are already serving time for other crimes are facing additional charges, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Those charged are Ramiro Guerrero III, 22, of Plant City; Sebastian Guevara, 18; Macario Hernandez, 26, of Plant City; Eugeno Reyes, 21, of Plant City; Cruz Vargas, 22; Chris Manriquez, 21, who is now in state prison; and Raul Rodriguez, 20, who is serving time in the Hillsborough County jail, the Sheriff's Office said. Guevara is also charged with two counts of aggravated assault and shooting into or at a building.
Wednesday's announcement of the charges did not detail the exact nature of the suspects' criminal activities, but the Sheriff's Office said that the area's Sur 13 members generally use guns to "promote and protect" their drug trade and commit violent crimes.
RICO charges do not need to accompany other criminal charges, said Tampa defense attorney Brian Gonzalez, who has represented people facing the charge. Instead, prosecutors must show that the individual did certain acts in furtherance of the gang. That could even include previous charges from months or years ago, he said.
These are not first-time offenses for any of the men, according to sheriff's Col. Donna Lusczynski.
Deputies identified them as active members during normal patrol duties, as well as through undercover work, social media surveillance and tips from informants, she said.
Deputies are looking for one more person, and Lusczynski said she anticipates more arrests.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.