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18 suspected Wichita Falls gang members in custody

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Wichita Falls_Eighteen suspected gang members and their buddies are off the streets of Wichita Falls Thursday following a massive law enforcement collaboration.  About 150 police officers, sheriff's deputies, and the FBI, ATF, and immigration agents targeted the Puro ‘Lil Mafia (PLM) gang.  They were armed with federal and state indictments.

Authorities say the PLM Gang is responsible for many violent gun crimes, and the recruitment of young boys and girls into their gang.  7News has been following the effort to fight gangs in the Falls for several years, and since October, 2007, police and federal authorities say they have been tracking this particular gang's activity.

Just last year, the city secured an injunction against the PLM Gang to further crack down on their members' crimes.  Now, several members face time in prison.  Seven homes were searched during the Wednesday morning takedown, and the message from law enforcement and the Wichita Falls Police Chief was abundantly clear.  "We will not tolerate anybody shooting up Wichita Falls."

Shooting up Wichita Falls is what the PLM Gang is accused of doing.  "The vast majority of them carry weapons constantly, like the chief talked about," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Taly Haffar.  "Doing drive-bys they always have guns in their cars, they're always walking around with guns on them - it's a big problem," he said.  "It's bad enough that the other gang members that they're shooting at get hit, but we have innocent citizens out there who get hit," said Chief Dennis Bachman.  "We shouldn't have a community like that anywhere in the United States."

With federal authorities involved, the U.S. Attorney's Office sought to crack down on a growing trend in Wichita Falls and the rest of the country.  It's called "Straw Gun Purchases."  "...where somebody is buying a firearm, and telling the firearms' dealer they're purchasing it for themselves, and they turn around and hand it off to a convicted felon or somebody else who is not allowed to possess a firearm," said Afar.

Wednesday's announcement included indictments for "straw" purchases.  "If you're going to commit crimes in Wichita Falls, you might expect to go to jail and prison," Bachman said.  "We believe this will dismantle - if not completely destroy - this street gang," said Afar.

Authorities say some of the arrests were attributed to drugs - specifically large amounts of powdered cocaine.  In all, they say 14 people face federal charges, including a man from Illinois.  7News is told that he is an associate of the gang.  Four more people face state charges, and more arrests are expected.

Bachman says that while it always is good to have bad guys off the street, he considers today's operation a success because no one was hurt.

Count on 7News to keep you updated.
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