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WEST VALLEY CITY - An indictment unsealed Friday accuses 14 alleged members and associates of a Salt Lake County street gang of conducting a decadelong reign of terror - including a murder, carjackings, home invasion robberies and the attempted killings of rival gang members.
One of the crimes, a shooting last month that injured two men in a car at a stoplight in West Valley City, was a case of mistaken identity, according to authorities.
The six-count indictment by a federal grand jury accuses the purported members of the Tiny Oriental Posse of conspiracy to commit racketeering, violent crime in aid of racketeering and violation of federal firearms law. The indictment follows a joint investigation by more than a dozen local and federal law-enforcement agencies.
The suspects, depending on what each is charged with, could face maximum sentences of up to 10 years in prison, 20 years or life.
The investigation, which led to the arrests Friday of six people and additional charges against nine others already in prison, "has struck a devastating blow" to the gang, said acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Sorenson.
Speaking at a news conference, Sorenson said that young people tempted to join a street gang and participate in violent crime should know "sooner or later, law enforcement will catch up with them."
Mary Rook, FBI assistant agent in charge of the Salt Lake City office, said her agency is committed to working with other law enforcement offices to prosecute gang members who terrorize their communities.
"I believe this indictment sends a clear message," she said.
A 15th defendant, Rodney Amato Liti, was arrested on a separate federal complaint accusing him of possession of a firearm or ammunition while addicted to a controlled substance. Liti is described as a documented member of a violent street gang called The Baby Regulators that associates with the Tiny Oriental Posse.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Attorney's Office; the FBI; the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office; the West Valley City, Salt Lake City, West Jordan, Sandy, South Salt Lake City, Midvale and Murray police departments; the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office; and the Salt Lake Area Metro Gang unit. Other local and federal agencies assisted.
This is the third time that Utah law enforcement agencies have joined to use federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) laws to combat street gangs.
Ten members and associates of the King Mafia Associates were indicted in May 2002 and leader Tyrese Smith is now serving a life sentence, while other defendants received prison terms ranging from 6 1/2 years to 32 years.
In December 2003, a dozen alleged members or associate of the Soldiers of the Aryan Culture were indicted. One defendant is serving a 20-year prison sentence, while others were handed terms ranging from three years to 15 1/2 years.
Craig Black, assistant West Valley City police chief, said the Tiny Oriental Posse prosecution will counter the "climate of fear" created by the gang. "This is a great day," he said.
The indictment alleges that the defendants conspired from July 1997 to July 2006 to "conduct and participate in a pattern of racketeering activity."
The 22 racketeering acts listed include conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, aggravated robbery, conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, robbery of a vehicle and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Four of the counts charge various defendants with committing violent crime in aid of racketeering activity.
Many of the defendants already have been convicted in Utah state courts of the crimes. William Dav Mathipannha is serving up to life in prison for the October 2004 shooting of teenager Sang B. Nguyen.
Tiny Oriental Posse was founded in 1985 and operates primarily in West Valley City and Salt Lake City, according to the indictment. The gang allegedly has an unwritten code that determines its colors, flag, symbol and tattoos.
The indictment says its primary color is white, with a white bandana typically serving as the gang flag; members are known to wear red, black, yellow and green clothing to symbolize their membership; and the symbols are T.O.P. and 20-15-16, the numbers associated with the letters of the alphabet.
There is no formal hierarchy, but an organization based on the generation, or subset, during which a candidate became a member, the indictment says. Tiny Oriental Posse is the first generation under Oriental Posse, followed by Goof Troop, Dangerous Juniors, White Belts and possibly AZN Motivation Crew, or Asian Motivation Crew.
Members who do not follow the unwritten rules face physical punishment that could range from a beating to death, the indictment alleges.
The defendants are William Mathipannha, 24; Daniel Chhoun, 23; Prum Mony Ty, 23, currently serving a sentence in Utah State Prison; Chantha Chhat, 24, also a state prisoner; Phoukham Chanthavong, 24, a state prisoner; Samnang Yong, 25, currently in federal prison; Rithy Chhat, 25; Andrew Schmidt, 18; Brian Chhoun, no age available; Alan Ratrisouk, 21, state prisoner; Sackda Douangbupha, 25, state prisoner; Vongmany Mathipannha, 27, federal prisoner; Ry Ken, no age available, state prisoner; and Niue Fakatou, 26.