Law enforcement officials announced Wednesday they made a “pretty significant dent” in Las Vegas Valley gang activity with the arrests or indictments of 29 gang members following a monthslong investigation.
“Make no mistake, we will continue to work together with our partner agencies to rid (the) Las Vegas Valley of gangs,” Metropolitan Police Department Capt. John Leon said at a news conference.
Officials linked the 29 members of the transnational 18th Street Gang to such crimes as murder, attempted murder, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping and illegal drug sales. They were responsible for at least 50 “valleywide events” over an 18-month period and at least 55 felony offenses, said Leon, who oversees Metro’s gang/vice bureau.
The joint effort among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to tackle the gang began in March, Leon said. The operation targeted leaders and “key associates” of the gang in an effort to dismantle its structure and drug trade network, “allowing the impact of the investigation to resonate for a number of years,” he said.
Authorities received significant intelligence from within High Desert State Prison, about 40 miles northwest of Las Vegas, where the 18th Street Gang was “heavily involved” in illegal activities, Leon said.
“A lot of times in prisons we’ll have our street gangs form up allegiances, and they will be more vocal about their associations in that setting,” Metro gang Lt. Reggie Rader elaborated. “That allowed us to get some key pieces on the way they were operating in the prisons and the trickle-out effect that sometimes has in our valley with our local street gangs.”
A poster with the gang members’ faces was displayed to the right of the lectern. They range in age from 19 to the mid-40s, Rader said. Each person was divided into different “cliques” or subsections that fell under the 18th Street Gang’s umbrella, he said.
The operation marked a “pretty significant dent” in the valley’s gang activities, which have spanned every corner of the valley, Rader said.
The investigation isn’t finished, Rader said. Police are still gathering evidence that they think could lead to further charges.
By attacking the gang’s structure, rather than targeting only a few leaders, authorities can prevent other members from filling the void, he said, adding that such an approach puts other gangs and gang members on notice.
“It might make them think twice before they want to commit those crimes,” he said.
Police are investigating other gangs, but Rader declined to get into specifics.
About two-thirds of the cases were being prosecuted in the state’s court system, and the rest were going through the federal system, District Attorney Steve Wolfson said at the news conference.
Wolfson credited the agencies’ work and, particularly, his office’s gang unit, led by Chief Deputy District Attorney Danielle Pieper, a “mini task force” that targets gang violence in the community.
“We are a safer community today because of the efforts of this investigation,” Wolfson said.
The DA’s office provided two of the indictments to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. One was for Henry A. Rios, who faces charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the May 23, 2017, shooting of 23-year-old Adan Gavilanes. Rios is awaiting a March trial, court records show.
All but one of the 29 — Jessica Leavitt — have been arrested, Rader later said. Court records show a woman by that name has a warrant out for her arrest accusing her of concealing an escaped felony prisoner, aiding a felony prisoner’s escape and conspiring to commit a non-felony crime.
Jeffrey Pimental, one of those arrested, is listed as a co-defendant in her case, the records show. He escaped from a minimum-security Nevada prison in January and faces additional escape-related charges.
The second indictment names Anthony Adam Hickman and Daniel Atzin Zavala as suspects in a Jan. 20 cutting. Court records show Hickman pleaded guilty to attempted battery with substantial bodily harm, and Zavala pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit battery. They were sentenced over the summer to serve time in the Clark County Detention Center.
Sentencing documents and jail records suggest they are no longer in custody for those charges, though Zavala is being held on a separate drug charge.
Other agencies that assisted with the investigation include the Nevada Department of Corrections, Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. attorney’s office.
The ATF helped police recover 20 firearms — 19 handguns and a shotgun, Leon said.
In March, Metro announced the arrests of five MS-13 gang members in connection with a string of killings that left 10 dead within Clark County in about a year.