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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Raids in Eastern Washington target Norteño prison gang and drug trafficking

U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington Vanessa Waldref announces the unsealing of indictments and arrests in a prison gang raid in Eastern Washington.  (Donald W. Meyers/Yakima Herald-Republic)
By Donald W. Meyers Yakima Herald-Republic

Federal, tribal and local agencies arrested more than 20 people in a crackdown on gang crime in raids Thursday morning across Eastern Washington.

The raids targeted La Nuestra Familia, a Norteño prison gang, and others working with it in drug trafficking, cockfighting and money laundering.

Flanked by Yakima police Chief Matt Murray, Yakima County Sheriff Bob Udell and representatives of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington Vanessa Waldref announced the unsealing of indictments and the arrests in the case.

“The ongoing criminal actions of these gangs perpetuate violence in our community, and we are working tirelessly to protect our neighborhoods, and especially our youth, from the dangerous combination of drug trafficking and violent gang activities,” Waldref said during a news conference outside the William O. Douglas Courthouse in downtown Yakima.

The indictment alleges four people supervised dozens of others in a criminal enterprise that included distribution of illegal drugs, cockfighting, possession of illegal firearms, illegal use of the U.S. Postal Service, and attempts to kill those who helped law enforcement in the investigation. Multiple people have also been charged with money laundering.

Some of those arrested will be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Yakima Friday afternoon.

Officials said that while this was a major operation, the work is not over.

“I think it is important to everybody here that we are still committed to this effort. We will continue to go after people who do the most harm in our neighborhoods. This is not the finish line,” Murray said. “If somebody has chosen this way of life, it is really important for you to look at your standing, because we are not quitting.”

Murray and Jonathan Blais, ATF special agent in charge of the Seattle division, said their part of the operation began with Yakima police making arrests in 2022 and realizing that they were not isolated incidents of gang crime.

“It just kept expanding and growing,” Murray said.

Eventually, it connected La Nuestra Familia’s operation with local Norteño street gangs in drug trafficking, cockfighting and other illegal activities.

The investigation crossed into Yakima, Spokane and Walla Walla counties, and the Yakama Reservation. It also extended into Louisiana, Colorado, and Arkansas.

Waldref said some of the leaders of La Nuestra Familia were serving time in the federal penitentiary in Florence, Colo., which has been dubbed a “Supermax” because of its maximum-security status.

More than 350 officers, some using armored vehicles, executed search and arrest warrants. Authorities seized 37 firearms – some of which were displayed at the news conference – thousands of rounds of ammunition, pound-quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine, more than 8,000 fentanyl-laced pills and more than $20,000 in cash.

In raids in Zillah and Outlook, authorities seized more than 150 roosters that were used in cockfighting. Waldref said the birds have been sent to the Heartwood Haven Animal Rescue in Roy.

Udell, whose deputies and armored vehicle assisted with the arrest, said no one agency can combat violent crime on this scale.

“This is the way it is supposed to work – all of us working together to make our communities safer. Not one of our agencies can do it alone, but we’ve got buddies and we got partners,” Udell said.

He said those arrested surrendered without incident, due to overwhelming force he said was brought to bear in “this spring roundup.”