An Ogden judge this week ruled that six criminal cases targeting alleged members of a small northern Utah gang can move forward to trial. The six men were charged in June of 2016 with engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity under the Utah Pattern of Unlawful Activity Act (“UPUAA”), as well as other charges including assault, aggravated assault, and aggravated robbery. The UPUAA charges are similar to charges under the UPUAA’s federal counterpart, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO.
UPUAA charges against gang ruled to be supported by probable cause
This fall, Second District Judge Ernie Jones on Tuesday ruled there was enough evidence for the case to move forward against the six men: Tamer Ahmed Hebeishy, 33, Sharif Ahmed Hebeishy, 36, Sadat Ahmed Hebeishy, 35, Daniel Ray Lopez, 26, Brock Adam Pickett, 29, and Jaron Michael Sadler, 22. All defendants have pled innocence and a trial has been set for January of 2018.
The defense attorneys representing these men have argued that their clients were no longer gang members, or that their crimes were not committed to appease gang leaders. They also attacked the credibility of witnesses who described the gang’s structure and denied that the gang was an “enterprise under the UPUAA statute. Section 76-10-1602 of the Utah Code describes the term “enterprise” and “pattern of unlawful activity as follows:
(1) “Enterprise” means any individual, sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, business
trust, association, or other legal entity, and any union or group of individuals associated in fact
although not a legal entity, and includes illicit as well as licit entities.
(2) “Pattern of unlawful activity” means engaging in conduct which constitutes the commission of
at least three episodes of unlawful activity, which episodes are not isolated, but have the same
or similar purposes, results, participants, victims, or methods of commission, or otherwise are
interrelated by distinguishing characteristics. Taken together, the episodes shall demonstrate
continuing unlawful conduct and be related either to each other or to the enterprise.
According to a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune, the Titanic Crip Society has had a presence in northern Utah since the 1990s, and that their membership has fluctuated between 10 and 20 members. Weber County prosecutors have said that they hope the new UPUAA charges will help to curb activities of the gang. If convicted of all charges, the men would face five-to-life prison sentences.
Deputy Weber County Attorney Branden Miles spoke of the charges against six members of the Titanic Crip Society last year: “We believe a targeted prosecution of their leadership has the potential to disrupt their activities and terminate their existence as a criminal street gang.” Miles also said that the new UPUAA charges represent “a new approach” for Weber County prosecutors in response to gang crime.
UPUAA charges are the first racketeering case against gang leaders in Utah
The charges against the six men represent the first such charges targeted at a street gang as a whole since the Utah Supreme Court dissolved a city-wide gang injunction in Ogden against the main rivals of the Titanic Crip Society, the Ogden Trece, in 2013.
According to the charging documents, the six men charged were Titanic Crip Society leaders, which the gang refers to as “Big Homies.” As “Big Homies,” the gang’s leaders are removed from the day-to-day criminal activity of the gang that is carried out by younger members (“Little Homies”) on the directions of the leaders. Prosecutors have said that the three Hebeishy brothers charged under the UPUAA are most likely the longest-standing members of the Titanic Crip Society, and that, because of the way the gang is structured, the leaders “are able to observe/portray a ‘gangster’ lifestyle while not fully exposing themselves to the risks of criminal charges.” However, that has all changed with the new charges filed by the Weber County District Attorney’s Office.
Currently, all six of the men charged under the UPUAA are behind bars, most serving time at the Utah State Prison for other crimes. The Tribune has reported that “Sharif and Tamer Hebeishy are in prison for drug crimes, while Sadler is serving a prison sentence for obstructing justice, unlawful sexual activity with a minor and attempted assault of a police officer. Lopez is in prison for discharging a firearm, and Pickett is serving a sentence for attempted assault of a prisoner and aggravated assault. Sadat Hebeishy is the only named defendant who is currently being held at the Weber County Jail.”
UPUAA charges are the result of a 2015 investigation
The UPUAA charges are the result of an investigation initiated in 2015 by the Ogden-Metro Gang Unit and Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force, with help from the local FBI Violent Crimes Task Force. The investigation began after law enforcement noticed a “troubling increase” in crimes being committed by the members of the Titanic Crip Society. The investigation involved the use of confidential informants, wiretapped telephones and otherwise, to sustain the charges under the UPUAA.
FBI Salt Lake City Supervisory Special Agent John Barrett has said of the investigation: “Those involved in this case spent countless investigative hours, assets and expertise in an effort to combat a problem that poses a significant threat to our communities. Violent gangs plague our streets with drugs, violence and other criminal activity and the FBI remains dedicated to disrupt and dismantle such groups.”
A “New Approach” to Gang Violence
While prosecutors have said they would not rule out bringing back the gang injunction abrogated by the Utah Supreme Court in 2013, they’ve said they intend to focus on the Titanic Crip Society leaders under the new UPUAA charges for now. “With the Supreme Court’s guidance, we know how to properly serve a gang,” Deputy Weber County Attorney Branden Miles said. “We have just been focused on the gang that has recently given us the most significant criminal activity.”
Miles also noted that the new UPUAA charges against the six men are the first such charges targeting gang leaders for racketeering, although Miles did say that there had been several federal RICO cases filed against local gang leaders. The most recent of those federal RICO cases targeted the Tongan Crip Gang in 2010, which sent many of them to federal prison, and left one Tongan Crip Member dead after he was shot by a federal marshal at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. The other three previous cases, one in 2006, one in 2003, and one in 2002 saw 15 members of the Tiny Oriental Posse, as well members of the Soldiers of Aryan Culture and members of the King Mafia Disciples all charged under RICO.
Penalties accompanying UPUAA charges
Under the UPUAA, “any person who violates any provision of [the UPUAA] is guilty of a second-degree felony,” which carries a potential penalty of one to 15 years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine. In addition to the aforementioned punishments, a person convicted under the UPUAA may be ordered to pay the state, if the case was brought by the attorney general, or to the county, if the county attorney or district attorney brought case, “the costs of investigating and prosecuting the offense and the costs of securing the forfeitures provided for” by the statute. In lieu of any fine otherwise authorized by law, a defendant may not be fined more than twice the amount of the net proceeds the defendant received from his or her unlawful activity. A court may also: 1) order restitution; 2) order the person to divest him or herself of any interest or control in any enterprise (as defined by the statute); 3) impose reasonable restrictions on the future activities of the person; and 4) order dissolution or reorganization of any enterprise.
UPUAA charges vs. gang injunction?
Aside from the punishments that the six men will face, the change in tactics by the Weber County Attorney’s Office is what is most noteworthy about this case. Stymied by the Utah Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Ogden Trece gang injunction, Weber County prosecutors have turned to the state version of RICO for the first time to do their bidding. If successful, other gangs and/or their leaders may be targeted through state UPUAA prosecutions, adding to the strong authority already wielded by federal prosecutors under RICO. However, if unsuccessful, prosecutors have already intimated that they may try to renew the formerly overruled gang injunction, which may accomplish the same objective as the UPUAA prosecutions, but with an injunction comes the threat that a Utah court will again find the injunction unconstitutional. Until then, prosecutors will watch intently over the proceedings in the Titanic Crip Society case.
* Photo Cred.: sltrib.com