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Twin Cities gang sweep nets 16 of metro's 'worst offenders'

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A law enforcement sweep involving 100 officers netted 16 suspected metro-area street gang members whom authorities described as "the most violent individuals in St. Paul" and "the worst offenders throughout the Twin Cities," among other descriptors, the Pioneer Press reports.

The 16 were members of the infamous East Side Boys gang, swept up mostly in St. Paul, but a few were also arrested in Minneapolis, Maplewood and Farmington, the newspaper reports.

Fifteen have already been charged with a wide variety of counts, and the Pioneer Press has a list of the suspects, who range in age from 20 to 47. They're accused of drug dealing, weapons violations, aggravated robbery and gang-organizing offenses, the Pioneer Press reports. Among the items seized: 11 guns, roughly $3,000 and drugs that included methamphetamine, crack cocaine, marijuana and codeine, the newspaper reports.

The East Side Boyz were suspected in two high-profile shootings. Suspected gang member Joseph Campbell was convicted in June of first- and second-degree murder for shooting Naressa Turner in a parked car in St. Paul last October.

Investigators also suspect some of those who attacked Ray Widstrand as he was walking in a crowd in August were East Side Boyz gang members, or possibly with the affiliated Ham Crazy gang. Widstrand has been in the news this week saying he forgives his attackers.

“Today’s activities hopefully will send a strong message to individuals who want to recruit our young men and women in the city of St. Paul to do bad things and get involved with gang activity,” St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith said, the Star Tribune reported.

"Operation Screeching Halt" had netted 12 other suspects in the past four months. More arrests are likely, Smith said.

Minneapolis FBI Special Agent in Charge Chris Warner told reporters that the sweeps were designed to get the most violent people off the streets, MPR reported.

"These cases are not about drugs. They're about violence. And they're about protecting the citizens of our cities," Warner said.

Commenters on the Pioneer Press website story did not seem too impressed. Among the comments: "And what was the cost of this operation that will just have them back out on the streets in a matter of days."

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