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Police Crackdown On San Diego Gangs Arresting 37 Alleged Members

The door of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department in Kearny Mesa, Dec. 31...

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Above: The door of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department in Kearny Mesa, Dec. 31, 2014.

Federal indictments unsealed in San Diego Wednesday charged 37 alleged gang members with heroin, methamphetamine and firearms trafficking, in many cases within feet of North County schools.

The crackdown was the latest in a series of efforts by the Department of Justice to turn the tide of the opioid epidemic and reduce the inevitable violent crime that accompanies widespread drug trafficking, according to prosecutors.

Early Wednesday morning, more than 100 members of the North County Regional Gang Task Force, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies made numerous arrests and searched various North County locations.

As of midday, 27 of the 37 defendants were in federal or state custody, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego. A total of 21 were arrested this week, including 18 this morning, and the rest were already in custody. Ten defendants remained at large.

During the operation, authorities seized heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl and firearms, including a semi-automatic pistol, revolvers, and a two AR-15 style assault rifles.

RELATED: White House To Give Status Update On Opioid Emergency

The yearlong investigation involved federal wiretaps, dozens of undercover drug and gun buys, and extensive surveillance, officials said. A number of the defendants allegedly are documented members or associates of violent North County street gangs operating out of Encinitas, San Marcos, Oceanside, Vista, Carlsbad, Escondido and elsewhere.

Many of the involved criminal groups have longstanding ties to the Mexican Mafia, according to prosecutors.

The drugs and guns involved in the case were being stored and sold in North County neighborhoods, including near Libby Lake Park and across the street from several schools, including Jefferson Middle School, Clair W. Burgener Academy, Mission Elementary School, San Marcos High School, and Joli Ann Leichtag Elementary School, according to court documents.

"We have a special resolve to go after gangs that have the audacity to operate on the boundaries of our schools where children play and learn," U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said. "The gangs are always on our radar, but when they endanger our most precious and vulnerable population — our children — we will act decisively."

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