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The forewoman of the federal jury that convicted members of the Tongan Crip Gang on multiple charges this week had never heard of the group before she was plucked to be one of 12 people responsible for determining their innocence or guilt.
But after sitting through a five-week trial in U.S. District Court and deliberating for two days, she was profoundly impacted by what she learned about the gang and its alleged involvement in dozens of crimes dating back to 2002.
"It has changed my life," the forewoman Friday. She said she spent "sleepless nights" thinking about the evidence and the gravity of her duty to find a just verdict, which was announced late Thursday, when jurors convicted six of eight TCG members on trial for violent crimes.
"I am at peace with the verdict we all reached," she added.
A second juror interviewed Friday said the verdicts came after careful consideration.
"For some counts where we found a particular defendant not guilty, some of us felt that the person was quite possibly guilty, but there was just not enough evidence to convict," said the juror, who asked to remain anonymous. "Conversely, there were some counts on some defendants that some of us really felt sympathy for, but the evidence was strong and we felt we had no choice but to convict."
Prosecutors alleged TCG is a criminal enterprise that committed robberies, assaults and shootings to expand the gang's operations which was the basis for bringing charges against gang members under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO.
However, only three defendants Eric Kamahele, Kepa Maumau and Mataika Tuai were convicted of RICO violations. They, and three others David Kamoto, Daniel Maumau, and Sitamipa Toki also were convicted of robbery, assault and firearms counts.
Acquitted of all counts were Charles Moa and David Walsh.
Kamahele, Maumau and Tuai were convicted of racketeering in connection with five crimes: a Jan. 18, 2008, robbery of a Republic Parking booth attendant at the Hilton Hotel in Salt Lake City; an Aug. 12, 2008, robbery of a Gen X Clothing store in South Ogden; an Aug. 19, 2008, robbery of El Pollo Loco, a restaurant in Tempe, Arizona; an Aug. 19, 2008, robbery of a Jack in the Box restaurant in Tempe; and a Sept. 25, 2008, attempted robbery of a Walmart Store in Riverton.
The jury forewoman said jurors spent a great amount of time discussing their acquittal of Walsh, who was accused of killing a man at a party.
Gut-wrenching testimony came during trial from the sister of the man who Walsh allegedly killed, which played on jurors' emotions.
Makalita Fifita, testified to witnessing her brother's murder on Feb. 24, 2007. She recalled hearing the gunshots that killed her brother, 21-year-old Solomone TokoToko Tu'ifua, and running to his side. Walsh is accused of shooting Tu'ifua, a fellow TCG member who went by the moniker of "Bomm-Loc," because the man was on the outs with other gang members.
It was irrelevant whether jurors believed Walsh had killed Tu'ifua; the jury could only consider whether Walsh was part of a conspiracy. But Walsh's role in the slaying may be addressed in state court if murder charges are filed based on new evidence that emerged at the federal court trial.
The U.S. Marshals kept security tight throughout the TCG trial. Members of the public had to pass through multiple security screenings and sign a log after showing government-issued identification.
The nature of the case apparently prompted one juror to send a note to Judge Tena Campbell expressing concern that gangsters would retaliate against jurors for bringing guilty verdicts. That move caused defense attorneys to ask for a mistrial, which Campbell denied.
"We had no idea until the trial was over that the note had nearly caused a mistrial," said the other juror interviewed by The Tribune, who said she, too, was concerned about retaliation.
"[A mistrial] would have been tragic, indeed, as that note was sent on the final day of closing arguments," the juror said. "I want to emphasize that we never let fear factor into our decisions as guilt or innocence."
The jury forewoman said she never felt unsafe nor worried about retaliation.
"I had no fear whatsoever," she said. "We were there to do our civic responsibility."
Concerns of retaliation, however, may not have been unreasonable.
Campbell received death threats after presiding over a RICO case that sent several gang associates of 31-year-old Matthew Bernard Hale to prison. Hale sent several letters to Campbell's chambers in 2009, including one stating, "You are going to die by the bullet!" and, "Once I'm free your ass is dead."
Campbell reported the letter to police and Hale later admitted threatening the judge, a confession that resulted in a federal indictment and a 37-month federal prison sentence.
Thursday's verdicts ended the latest wave of court proceedings in the complex TCG case.
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, 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 intended to take a major step toward dismantling the gang, prosecutors said when announcing the indictments last year.
Eight defendants were tried at the recent trial.
Four defendants Siale Angilau, Tevita Tolutau, Viliami Loumoli and John Tuakalau are set for trial in February 2012.
Five other 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 U.S. Attorney's Office said it took two years to assemble the TCG case, the fourth successful RICO prosecution in Utah.
In 2006, 15 alleged members and associates of the Tiny Oriental Posse were indicted. In 2002, the King Mafia Disciples were charged with RICO crimes. Members of the Soldiers of Aryan Culture were charged in 2003.
How the verdict shook out
A federal jury on Thursday convicted six members of the Tongan Crip Gang (TCG) for crimes dating back to 2002 including robberies, assaults and supporting a criminal enterprise. The verdict came after two days of deliberation and a five-week trial. The defendants face potentially lengthy prison terms when sentenced later this year by U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell. Several of the defendants were in the middle of serving other prison terms they will need to carry out before starting their new federal sentences.
Eric "Smooth" Kamahele • 24, of Cottonwood Heights
Convicted of • Racketeering conspiracy; assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering; using or carrying a firearm during a crime of violence; and robbery. He faces at least 32 years in prison.
Mataika "Fish" Tuai • 22, Salt Lake City
Convicted of • Racketeering conspiracy; robbery and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. He faces at least 10 years in prison.
David "D-Down" Kamoto • 24, Salt Lake City
Convicted of • Robbery. Jurors acquitted Kamoto on charges of maiming in aid of racketeering, assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering; conspiracy to commit assault resulting in serious bodily injury in aid of racketeering; and firearms charges. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Daniel "D-Loc" Maumau • 25, Salt Lake City
Convicted of • Assault with a dangerous weapon and using or carrying a firearm during a crime of violence. Jurors acquitted Maumau on charges of conspiracy to commit assault resulting in serious bodily injury and a second firearms count. He faces at least 10 years in prison.
Kepa "Kap-Loc" Maumau • 24, Salt Lake City
Convicted of • Racketeering conspiracy; robbery; assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering and multiple counts of using or carrying a firearm during a violent crime. He faces at least 57 years in prison.
Sitamipa "Tok-Loc" Toki • 28, Salt Lake City
Convicted of • Assault with a dangerous weapon and using or carrying a firearm in connection with a crime of violence. Jurors acquitted Toki of conspiracy to commit assault resulting in serious bodily injury and a second firearms count. He faces at least 10 years in prison.
David "D-Nutt" Walsh • 32, Inglewood, Calif.
Acquitted of • Conspiracy to commit assault resulting in serious bodily injury in aid of racketeering. Walsh will be returned to California, where he is serving a prison sentence for crimes there. He may be possibly charged with murder in Utah's 3rd District Court, after previously unrevealed testimony during the federal trial indicated he was the alleged triggerman in the 2007 murder of Solomone Tu'ifua.
Charles "Slim-Loc" Moa • 32, West Jordan
Acquitted of • Racketeering and weapons charges. The judge ruled there was not enough evidence for Moa's case to be considered by the jury, and granted a defense attorney's motion for acquittal prior to jury deliberations. Moa was sent back to the Utah State Prison in Draper, where he is serving a state prison sentence for 3rd District Court convictions.