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A federal court jury on Thursday convicted three members of the Tongan Crip Gang on racketeering charges, while others were acquitted or convicted on charges that didn't include conspiring to build a criminal enterprise.
The verdict came in U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell's courtroom shortly before 9 p.m. following two days of deliberations and nearly four weeks of testimony in a trial that brought extra security to the Frank E. Moss Courthouse in Salt Lake City because of the gang's reputation.
There was little reaction among the seven defendants as their verdicts were read aloud to a silent courtroom filled with their family and friends, attorneys for both sides and multiple law enforcement officers.
Those convicted will face prison time when they are sentenced before Campbell in the coming months, while others will return to serving state prison sentences for robberies and other crimes. Prosecutors had contended that TCG is a criminal enterprise that has built itself into a gang that has terrorized Utah for the past 20 years by committing violent robberies, assaults and shootings and committed crimes in order to enhance standing in the gang and to expand its operations.
All three defendants charged with racketeering conspiracy Kepa Maumau, Eric Kamahele and Mataika Tuai were convicted of the charge.
Five defendants Sitamipa Toki, Daniel and Kepa Maumau, Tuai and Kamahele face mandatory minimum sentences ranging from seven to 57 years. David Kamoto faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
Federal prosecutors said they were pleased with the jury's decision because it sends the message that this type of behavior won't be tolerated.
"We believe this sends an enormously powerful message," said Carlie Christensen, 1st U.S. Attorney, following the verdict.
As the seven defendants filed out, handcuffed, most defendants smiled or nodded to Hema Katoa, a friend who was sitting in the courtroom to hear the verdicts, and said "Thank you for helping" to him in Tongan. Katoa said he did not want to comment on the verdicts.
"It's hard for our community," he said. "I'm grateful for a system that gives them some representation."
Eight of the 17 were tried during the past four weeks: Kamahele, aka "Smooth," 22, Cottonwood Heights; Tuai, aka "Fish," 32, Salt Lake City; Kamoto, aka "D-Down," 22, Salt Lake City; Maumau, aka "D-Loc," 24, Salt Lake City; Maumau, aka "Kap-Loc," 22; Charles Moa, aka "Slim-Loc," 31, West Jordan; Toki, aka "Tok-Loc," 28, Salt Lake City; and David Walsh, aka "D-Nutt," 31, Inglewood, Calif. The jury found Walsh not guilty.
Campbell dismissed Moa's case before closing arguments after his attorney filed a motion for acquittal, finding there was not enough evidence to send Moa's case on to the jury.
Seventeen TCG members and associates were charged in a 29-count indictment filed in U.S District Court in May 2010. 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.
Following the verdict, FBI Special Agent in Charge David Johnson these are the types of investigations the FBI needs to continue to conduct.
"I think it sends a strong message," he said.
Nine of the 17 received Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges, a move designed to take a major step toward dismantling the gang, prosecutors said when announcing the indictments last year.
Prosecutors said they plan to try the remaining four alleged gang members during a trail slated for February. Others have already pleaded guilty.
For defendant Kamoto's mother, Mary Masina Kamoto, the verdict came as a victory. He was found not guilty on all charges except for the one he conceded to, his attorney, Scott C. Williams said. The family hopes he'll be granted time served he's served about 4.5 years in jail for robbery and released during his upcoming sentencing.
Mary Kamoto said she had prayed every night that the jury would clear her son and felt deep inside that would be the outcome. She arrived too late to be admitted into the federal courthouse, so she had to wait to her son's verdict outside on the front steps.
"I worried a little bit, but I was OK," she said, smiling. "I hope he comes out [of prison and] knows what [he did] wrong and has a new life," she said. "I will pray for all of them to get out of this."
The jurors' decision came on the heels of a minor controversy at the end of the trial, when defense attorneys asked Campbell to declare a mistrial on the grounds of a question asked by the jury.
Jurors sent a note to Campbell expressing concern that they might be retaliated against by gang members if returning a guilty verdict. Campbell declined to grant the motion for mistrial, and told jurors their names would be protected.
TCG case verdict
A federal jury late Thursday handed down a mixed verdict to seven members of the Tongan Crip Gang. The results for the seven defendants were:
• David Walsh, who is accused of being the triggerman in the 2007 murder of Solomone Tuifua in Glendale, was acquitted on a charge of conspiracy to commit assault resulting in bodily injury. Walsh may possibly be charged with murder in state court for Tuifua's murder, investigators have said.
• Kepa Maumau, Eric Kamahele and Mataika Tuai were convicted of racketeering conspiracy. The jury found they had committed 5 overt acts in support of the racketeering conspiracy including a January 2008 robbery of Republic Parking Booth; an August 2008 robbery of Gen X Clothing store; an August 2008 robbery of El Pollo Loco; an August 2008 robbery of Jack in the Box; and an attempted robbery of Walmart in September 2008.
• Sitamipa Toki, Daniel and Kepa Maumau, Mataika Tuai, and Eric Kamahele face mandatory minimum sentences ranging from 7 to 57 years.
• David Kamoto was convicted of robbery and faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
• "We were pleased with the results. It is clear the jury careful listened to the evidence and looked closely at each count of the indictment. While members of TCG had been prosecuted in state and federal prosecutions before, the violence continued to escalate. A RICO prosecution was appropriate to address this violence," said Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.