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Jury selection started Tuesday in U.S. District Court for eight high-ranking members of the Tongan Crip Gang who are on trial for a string of gang-related crimes dating to 2002.
Seventeen TCG members and associates were charged in a 29-count indictment filed in federal court in May 2010, alleging the gang engages in acts of violence to enhance the gang's prestige and to protect and expand the gang's operations.
Nine of the 17 were charged with racketeering (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or RICO), which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, for allegedly engaging in a pattern of criminal enterprise. Federal, state and local law enforcement agents have said TCG has been committing crimes ranging from assault to armed robbery to murder in the Salt Lake Valley for more than 20 years. The RICO case was designed to take a major step toward dismantling the gang, prosecutors said when announcing the indictments last year.
Opening statements in the trial are expected Wednesday.
The 17 defendants charged in 2010 are:
Eric Kamahele, aka "Smooth," 22, of Cottonwood Heights;
Mataika Tuai, aka "Fish," 32, Salt Lake City;
Latutaofieikii Fakaosiula, 21, West Jordan;
Vainga Kinikini, 35, Salt Lake City;
Tevita Tolutau, aka "Kingi," 20, Salt Lake City;
Siale Angilau, aka "C-Down," 21, Salt Lake City;
Penisimani Fangupo, aka "Deuce," 23, Salt Lake City;
David Kamoto, aka "D-Down," 22, Salt Lake City;
Viliami Loumoli, aka "Eazy-V," 22, Salt Lake City;
Daniel Maumau, aka "D-Loc," 24, Salt Lake City;
Kepa Maumau, aka "Kap-Loc," 22, no city of residence listed;
Charles Moa, aka "Slim-Loc," 31, West Jordan;
George Pupunu, aka "T-Rex," 22, Salt Lake City;
Sitamipa Toki, aka "Tok-Loc," 28, Salt Lake City;
John Tuakalau, aka "Sin-Loc," 22, Magna;
Peter Tuiaki, aka "Pistol Pete," 22, Salt Lake City;
And David Walsh, aka "D-Nutt," 31, California.
But only eight defendants will be tried during the next five weeks: Kamahele, Tuai, Kamoto, Daniel Maumau, Kepa Maumau, Charles Moa, Sitamipa Toki and David Walsh.
Four defendants Siale Angilau, Tevita Tolutau, Viliami Loumoli and John Tuakalau are set for trial in February 2012.
Five defendants Vainga Kinikini, Latutaofieikii Fakaosiula, Peter Tuiaki, George Pupunu, Penisimani Fangupo have accepted plea agreements in the case and have been ordered to prison or are awaiting sentencing.
The start of Tuesday's trial before U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell brought extra security to the Frank E. Moss Courthouse. Five gang officers stood outside on the sidewalk as a security precaution.
The U.S. attorney's office has said it took two years to assemble the TCG case, which included documenting 34 "overt acts" dating back to 2002 that support the RICO allegations.
Most of those acts are convenience store robberies in which firearms were brandished and discharged. In July 2007, a clerk was shot and wounded during the robbery of a 7-Eleven in Salt Lake City committed by two of the people named in the indictment.
U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen has said new information about murders in which the gang was allegedly involved will likely come out at trial.
TCG is not the first Wasatch Front street gang whose members have been charged with federal racketeering charges in recent years.
In 2006, 15 alleged members and associates of the Tiny Oriental Posse were indicted. Charges were dropped against one man, but 14 others pleaded guilty to offenses committed on behalf of the gang. Defendant William Mathipannha had pleaded guilty in state court to first-degree felony murder for shooting a 15-year-old rival gang member outside a West Valley City apartment building in October 2004.
In 2002, the King Mafia Disciples were charged with RICO crimes. Members of the Soldiers of Aryan Culture were charged in 2003.