MODESTO — There are about 5,000 documented gang members, and an equal number of undocumented gang members, in Stanislaus County. They belong to 64 documented criminal gangs.
As their numbers have grown, so too have the problems associated with gangs.
Violent crime, including murders, shootings and assaults. Drug trafficking. Property crimes. Intimidation of neighbors and the takeover of public spaces, such as parks.
All of which explains why this week's very public gang sweep which resulted in 14 arrests early Wednesday in Modesto, Turlock and Ceres gained so much attention.
The arrests were part of a 10-month investigation into alleged criminal activity of members or associates of the Nuestra Familia prison gang or its street-level gang, the Norteños.
The operation was led by the Central Valley Gang Impact Task Force, a federally funded group of investigators from local, state and federal police agencies.
Thursday, five of the seven people facing state charges appeared for the first time in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Seven other suspects arrested on federal charges of methamphetamine trafficking will have their cases heard in U.S. District Court in Fresno.
Among those appearing Thursday in Modesto were Jesus Manuel Aispuro, 19, Jarred Elkins, 18, both of Turlock, and Ivan Gonzalez Velasquez, 17, of Hilmar. They have each been charged with one count of attempted murder with enhancements for allegedly using a gun and committing the crime for the benefit of the Norteño street gang.
Since they appeared without their attorneys, Stanislaus County Court Commissioner Nancy Williamsen entered not guilty pleas on their behalf. They will be appointed attorneys in their next scheduled hearing Wednesday.
Velasquez was 16 when the alleged crime occurred, but he is being prosecuted as an adult. Williamsen increased their bail to $1.5 million each. Aispuro and Elkins remained in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail, while Velasquez was being held at the Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall.
Aispuro, Elkins and Velasquez are accused of committing a drive-by shooting Nov. 25 on West F Street in Turlock. Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley said the targeted victim was not hit, but a man walking with him was struck by gunfire.
At the time, Turlock police said the man suffered non-life-threatening injuries when the shots were fired from the car heading east in the 300 block of West F Street.
The injured man was identified as "John Doe" in a criminal complaint filed Thursday in the attempted murder case. The complaint alleges that Aispuro, Elkins and Velasquez acted with premeditation.
Brian Gonzales, 36, and Patrick Griffith, 45, also were arraigned Thursday afternoon in Williamsen's courtroom, although their case is separate from the three other defendants. They have been charged with one count of first- degree robbery.
Gonzales initially was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder in connection with the robbery; however, prosecutors determined there was not sufficient evidence to charge him with that crime, Shipley said.
A criminal complaint filed in court Thursday alleges that Gonzales and Griffith committed a home-invasion robbery Jan. 16. Shipley said the robbery occurred at a home in a trailer park on First Street in Turlock.
The robbery charge has enhancements for allegedly using a gun and causing great bodily injury to the victim, who was identified as "John Doe" in the criminal complaint.
Williamsen increased the bail to $1.1 million each for Gonzales and Griffith, who also were being held at the county jail.
Two other men Jorge Trevino, 40, and Steven Parga, 19, both of Turlock were arrested on local drug charges during the sweep, but were not arraigned Thursday.
The gang task force's crackdown does not happen often, since investigators take a considerable amount of time to gather evidence to obtain search warrants and make arrests. The last time the gang task force led an operation of this size was in June, when they were investigating suspected links between the Norteños and drug cartels.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.