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Friday, May. 10, 2013

Federal prosecutor to announce dozens of violent crime arrests Friday

The Kansas City Star

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A 10-month Kansas City undercover investigation culminated this week in the arrests of dozens of criminal suspects in one of the largest violent crime sweeps in western Missouri history, authorities said.

U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson is expected to announce today the indictment of 61 people, most already convicted felons, on a host of weapon and drug charges. State authorities are considering whether to prosecute in state court up to a dozen more cases generated by the federal operation, officials said.

The investigation, which involved up to 50 officers and agents each day, began in late June and focused exclusively on “violent individuals using firearms,” said Marino F. Vidoli, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Kansas City office.

“We know who the violent individuals are in this community,” Vidoli said in a recent interview. “We know their backgrounds and it helps us target our law enforcement resources.”

Federal grand juries recently returned the indictments under seal. About 150 Kansas City police officers, federal agents and deputy U.S. marshals began making the arrests Tuesday.

Dickinson said the arrests and prosecutions are closely linked to work of the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, known as KC NoVa, that is designed to reduce shootings and killings in the city.

The NoVa effort has begun to identify individuals and groups most likely to commit violent crimes. Authorities offer social services, such as substance abuse treatment or job training, and promise swift prosecution if they do not leave the criminal life.

“This is shock and awe,” Dickinson said. “We’re sending a signal to the NoVa network that we’re going to come get you if you turn your back on us.”

As of late Thursday, authorities had arrested 28 people. Nineteer others already were in state or federal custody. Agents and officers continued to search for 14 fugitives, officials said.

Investigators recovered 222 firearms during the investigation, Vidoli said, including handguns, sawed-off shotguns, long guns and assault rifles. Some had been stolen; others had been defaced by having serial numbers filed off, he said.

And, after investigators ran ballistics evidence from the guns through an ATF database, they linked some of the weapons to other violent crimes, including homicides, Dickinson said.

Law enforcement records obtained by The Kansas City Star during the investigation showed that agents and police set up an undercover base in a high-crime area where they purchased drugs and guns.

The undercover location was equipped for audio and video recording, according to the records.

Throughout the summer, fall and winter, suspects offered to sell the undercover officers firearms, some of which turned out to have been stolen, court records said. About two-thirds of the sellers already had been convicted of felony crimes, investigators learned.

About half still were on probation or parole.

Others allegedly violated lesser known weapons charges, such as being illegal drug users or illegal aliens in possession of firearms.

One defendant purportedly possessed a .380-caliber pistol while facing a Jackson County burglary charge.

The investigation’s most serious charges have been laid against six men arrested as part of an ATF operation aimed at stopping deadly home invasions.

According to ATF records obtained by The Star during the investigation, the suspects agreed to participate in a robbery of a drug stash house and met several times with undercover agents to plan the heist.

An undercover ATF agent said recently that no stash house actually existed.

All six suspects face drug and robbery conspiracy charges and a firearms count, and could receive maximum life sentences if convicted.

The extensive planning behind the investigation extended to preparations for this week’s arrests and prosecutions. Just after taking office in January, Dickinson warned that prosecutors in units other than the Violent Crimes Strike Force should count on helping out with an expected influx of gun cases.

Judges, pretrial officers and even detention centers were warned about a surge of new defendants.

Court records show that at least three separate grand juries, meeting in April and early May, began churning out secret indictments, which remained under seal until this week.

Starting Tuesday morning, those arrested were herded through magistrate courtrooms in the federal courthouse for first appearances before judges. Prosecutors asked that about 95 percent of the new defendants be jailed without bond pending trial, Dickinson said.

“That has taken a huge amount of coordination with the courts, with the marshals and with federal probation and parole,” Dickinson said. “We were pleased with the cooperation and were welcomed with open arms.”

Following the news conference today, Dickinson and Vidoli plan to join Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker for individual meetings with targets of the NoVa initiative who did not appear at an April meeting to hear an offer of social services.

Organizers had invited 120 people to the meeting, but only about three dozen appeared.

“We’re going out to speak to individuals and let them know they’re on our radar screens,” Dickinson said. “This (investigation) helps drive home the point.”

To reach Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send email to mmorris@kcstar.com.

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