Police: “Operation Desert Impact” was culmination of a nine-month gang investigation in the Desert Hot Springs area.
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA — Nearly two dozen suspected gang members were arrested in Desert Hot Springs today, the culmination of a 9-month investigation into weapons and narcotics trafficking in the city.
Dubbed Operation Desert Impact, the investigation conducted by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, Desert Hot Springs police, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) officials, resulted in 25 total arrests, 22 of whom were arrested during this morning’s raid.
According to District Attorney Mike Hestrin, the arrested individuals hail from numerous gangs, with the operation targeting activity within the city of Desert Hot Springs rather than one specific group. At around 5 a.m., law enforcement began serving 11 state and 11 federal warrants throughout Desert Hot Springs to “known gang members or gang associates of several criminal street gangs in the Coachella Valley,” according to a D.A.’s Office release.
All 22 have been charged with felonies, the majority of which are related to weapons and narcotics trafficking, Hestrin said. Special agents from ICE went to locations today where there were believed to be immigration violations, while HUD special agents targeted individuals charged with perjury and grand theft for defrauding a housing program of a public housing authority.
A plethora of firearms, including two rocket launchers, were on display during a press conference held this morning at the Harry Lozano Community Center in Desert Hot Springs, the site of the press conference selected for its namesake Lozano, a U.S. Marine murdered in 2001 by Desert Hot Springs gang member Emilio Avalos, who was later sentenced to death.
“We are facing an increasingly well organized, well funded, well armed criminal organization and organizations here in Riverside County,” Hestrin said, flanked by an assortment of rifles, shotguns and handguns showcased on two foldout tables, which were seized over the course of the 9-month investigation.
Though some of the seized weapons were legal to own in California, they were illegal for many of today’s arrested convicted felons to possess.
Citing two recent, similar gang raids in Coachella and Corona, Hestrin urged more large-scale operations “to get at the source of crime and keep pressure on the street gangs and criminal organizations operating in our county.”
“Sometimes the best defense is an offense,” Hestrin said, calling the investigation “an excellent example of the kind of proactive, high level investigations that are needed across Riverside County.”
Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas publicly backed law enforcement efforts today, saying operations like Desert Impact and the ongoing work of local police helped crime drop in the city over the last year.
“With operations like this one today, we continue to fight crime at all levels,” said Matas. “Our police department will continue to be given the tools needed to fight crime the criminal element plaguing our hard working constituents.”