ATF: 90 arrested, guns and drugs seized in three-month crackdown

By KTVU.com

A four-month undercover operation in Oakland that resulted in 90 arrests and the seizure of 92 guns and a large quantity of illegal drugs was so successful that it will continue indefinitely, Police Chief Howard Jordan said Tuesday.

Jordan said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives led a multi-agency effort called “Operation Gideon III” and will continue to work with his department and other local agencies as needed.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said federal officials agreed to work with Oakland police because their city “unfortunately has significant problems with guns and violence.” Haag said the operation resulted in the seizure of about 4 kilograms of methamphetamine, 3 kilograms of marijuana, 1 kilogram of heroin and a half-kilogram of crack cocaine.

Oakland police Lt. Tony Jones, who heads the department’s gang intelligence task force and worked with federal officials during the operation, said taking 92 guns off the street only represents “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of the number of illegal guns in Oakland and promised “there will be more seizures.”

But Jordan said taking 92 guns away from criminals he believed were among the worst in the city is still “very significant” because most of the guns were high-powered weapons. ATF Acting Special Agent in Charge Scot Thomasson, who oversaw the operation, said, “Taking firearms out of the hands of the worst of the worst criminals who are active shooters is a good thing.”

Jordan said the operation has yielded immediate results because from April to May the number of shootings in Oakland dropped by about half and the number of homicides dropped from 14 to five. Thomasson said despite the positive results so far, “By no means are we through and we will continue this effort.”

Jordan said he began lobbying for federal help back in July 2010 in a meeting with ATF Deputy Assistant Director Steve Martin. He said funding for the effort was approved by Congress last October and 44 undercover agents from the agency arrived in Oakland on Feb. 2.

Joining law enforcement officials at a news conference at the federal building in Oakland, Mayor Jean Quan said the operation is “an amazing step forward” and she hopes it will “change the pattern of violence for a long time.”

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said she hopes the operation, which follows up on similar operations in Phoenix and San Diego, will help “eradicate the flow of illegal firearms in Oakland.”Haag said 60 of the people arrested face federal charges such as conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute narcotics, attempting to interfere with interstate commerce through robbery, unlawful dealing in firearms and assaulting federal agents.

Alameda County Chief Assistant District Attorney Kevin Dunleavy said the other 30 people arrested will face state charges for illegal possession of drugs and guns as well as probation violations. Jones said one of the most significant arrests during the undercover operation occurred on May 16, when agents raided an auto body shop in the 900 block of 76th Avenue in East Oakland and recovered 16 firearms, most of which were high-powered.

He said authorities arrested the 21-year-old twin brothers who ran the shop, Christian and Francisco Del Toro, and believe they were selling the illegal firearms out of the shop. Some of the handguns had high-capacity magazines that carry more rounds and have high firepower yet are easy to conceal on the street, Jones said. “There were a lot of firearms in one place and they were extremely dangerous,” he said.

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