Local, state and federal authorities banded together to target and arrest known criminal offenders, including gang members on federal drug and weapons charges.
U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst announced Thursday the indictments and arrests of 17 offenders on federal charges as part of a nationwide push to get criminals off the streets and to prosecute them federally. Federal gun charges carry stiffer penalties and send prisoners out of state to serve their time.
Some of those arrested were part of the Gunz Bricks Money gang and others were Simon City Royals.
Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives headed up the 13-month probe, which also resulted in the removal of 97 guns off the streets.
As part of the investigation, authorities led undercover operations to conduct 30 illegal firearm and narcotics purchases, he said, and coordinated with local prosecutors and officers to target the “worst” known criminals, primarily in the cities of Pascagoula and Moss Point.
Of the weapons seized, 20 had been reported stolen, and some had obliterated serial numbers. One of the weapons was stolen from a marked police car, Hurst said.
“Today’s announcement, coupled with the significant increase in the number of indictments ... should serve as a warning to criminals on the Coast and throughout Mississippi - you will be caught, you will be prosecuted and you will be punished for your crimes,” Hurst said. “You can expect to see a lot more of us in the coming months as we expand our crime-fighting efforts, help law-abiding citizens take back their communities and make the Coast safe again.”
More than half of those arrested have either pleaded guilty or announced their plans to enter guilty pleas.
Authorities targeted violent crime areas throughout the state, including in Jackson County, in a push to get criminals off the streets and out of neighborhoods they often control with fear and retaliation.
“We are here, we are going to continue to be here to target the most violent offenders,” said Jason Denham, resident agent in charge of ATF in Gulfport. “If you are going to possess a firearm while committing a crime, you are going to subject yourself to federal prosecution.”
The initiatives are part of ongoing proactive operations, such as the statewide Project Eject, an initiative to get the most dangerous criminals off the streets and out of state..
Hurst made the announcement during a press conference at the Pascagoula Police Department. He was joined by Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette Williams, Pascagoula police Chief Kenny Johnson, ATF’s Denham, the FBI, agents with South Mississippi Metro Enforcement Team and others.
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell had planned to attend but was sick and could not make it to the press conference.
High-crime areas and specific violent offenders known to law enforcement as career criminals were among those targeted in the operation, he said.
Gang activity has become a growing concern in South Mississippi.
In Moss Point, one man was killed and others injured in what Moss Point police called a gang-related armed robbery and slaying during a Super Bowl party. Four people have been arrested in that case, but the investigation is ongoing.
Many of those arrested are known to commit high-profile crimes, such as homicides, felony assaults, sexual assaults and other crimes.
In the latest indictments, offenders are facing gun charges for lying, for example, about drug use or previous drug activity or crimes to buy a gun that is later sold on the streets and used in other crimes. Local, state and federal authorities say their efforts will continue, with more arrests and indictments expected.