7 Manatee gang members arrested as part of national sweep

Seven reputed gang members in Manatee County have been arrested as part of a national anti-gang sweep, officials announced today.

Four of the gang members live in Bradenton and three reside in Palmetto.

In all, 26 gang members in the Tampa Bay and Fort Myers areas were arrested as part of Project Southern Tempest, led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, according to a news release from ICE.

On Tuesday, ICE announced the nationwide arrests of 678 gang member and associates from 133 different gangs, executed in 168 U.S. cities targeting gangs affiliated with drug trafficking organizations. More than 46 percent of those arrested during this operation were members or associates of gangs with ties to drug trafficking operations in Mexico, according to the release.

The sweep was announced two weeks after an ICE agent was shot to death in Mexico. The alleged shooter's boss is a reputed member of a Mexican drug cartel.

Of the 26 arrested in the Tampa Bay and Fort Myers areas, eight were residing in Tampa, five in Clearwater, four in Bradenton, three in Palmetto, one in Ruskin, one in Fort Myers and four in Hendry County.

Information on the local suspects was not immediately available.

The gang affiliations included MS-13, SUR-13, Brown Pride, Latin Kings, 15th Street, Gangster Disciples and the Notorious Blood Gangsters.

The operation started in December 2010 and culminated in February.

“Project Southern Tempest is the largest ever ICE-led gang enforcement operation targeting gangs with ties to drug trafficking organizations,” said ICE Director John Morton. “Through gang enforcement operations like Project Southern Tempest and Project Big Freeze last year, ICE will continue to disrupt and dismantle these transnational gangs and rid our streets not only of drug dealers, but the violence associated with the drug trade.”

According to the news release, of the 678 gang members or associates arrested, they hailed from 133 different gangs; 447 were charged with criminal offenses; 231 were administrative arrests; 322 had violent criminal histories; and 421 were foreign nationals.

In addition to the 678 arrests, 164 individuals were arrested for federal and/or state criminal violations, or administrative immigration violations. Of the 164, 117 were charged with criminal offenses, 46 had violent criminal histories, 47 were administrative arrests and 78 were foreign nationals.

In addition to the arrests, during the operation agents seized 86 firearms, 8 pounds of methamphetamine, 30 pounds of marijuana, 1 pound of cocaine, more than $70,000 in U.S currency and 2 vehicles, according to authorities.

Those arrested came from 24 countries in South and Central America, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Of the total number of arrested, 776 were males and 72 were females, according to the release.