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Monday, 23 April 2012

SUR13: Convictions put a crimp in gang's operation, but it still exists in South Florida

04:23 | ,

The drive-by shootings have subsided, but SUR-13's signature blue bandanas and "SURX3" tattoos have far from disappeared from South Florida streets. State prosecutors last week ended a four-year racketeering case in Palm Beach County against 14 suspected members of the notorious SUR-13 gang, sending them all to prison for stretches of up to 55 years. Yet local and state gang investigators say the Mexican street gang has swelled in areas where poor, immigrant families live.  Youths in unincorporated Palm Beach County, west of West Palm Beach; in northeast Broward; and in Homestead proudly flash hand signs for the number 13. And unlike homegrown gangs, SUR-13 has managed to organize quickly and attract more youths in the past six or seven years, said Jay McNamara, assistant special agent in charge of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations in Miami. "They are always recruiting," McNamara said. "They are always looking for new blood. They are looking for the [teen] who doesn't seem to fit in." ICE works with local law enforcement agencies to arrest gang members on criminal charges and immigration violations. McNamara declined to comment on the number of suspected SUR-13 gang members flagged in its growing database. While they still engage in shootouts with rival gangs and sling dope from corners, SUR-13 has become more involved in under-the-radar crimes such as identity theft and human trafficking, McNamara said. SUR stands for Southern United Raza, and 13 represents the letter M, the 13th letter of the alphabet and a tribute to the gang members' Mexican heritage. On Tuesday, three suspected member of SUR-13 in Palm Beach County were sentenced to more than 40 years in prison for racketeering and armed robbery convictions. This marks the end of the state's case against 14 members and associates indicted in a December 2007 sweep. Victor Castillo, 29, of Greenacres, got 45 years in prison, according to the Florida Attorney General's Office. Roberto Trejo, 22, of West Palm Beach, was sentenced to 50 years and Jose Sanchez, 30, of Texas, got 55 years. The remaining 11 defendants, including alleged ringleader Ernesto Campos, of Lake Worth, took plea deals in exchange for sentences ranging from five to 15 years. As part of their plea deals, they testified against the others. The youths were known for murders, arson, dope peddling and drive-by shooting in the notorious Westgate neighborhood west of West Palm Beach. Among their crimes: setting a man's house on fire to avenge a fellow "sureños" death; beating a homeless man with a 2-by-4 in the parking lot of a Westgate convenience store; shooting an innocent bystander in a drive-by shooting targeting a rival gang member. During the trials, testimony surfaced about the gang's violent initiations and the members' fierce pride in their Mexican heritage, a strict requirement for all members. Unlike other gangs, SUR-13 members flaunt their affiliation to the gang, which has roots in southern California prisons, said Broward Sheriff's Sgt. George Anthony, head of the agency's gang investigations. Sending 14 members to prison was a blow to SUR-13, but the group keeps a firm hold, he said. "It definitely disorganized the gang," Anthony said. "It put them in a state of disarray for a few years."

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