18 indicted in federal racketeering case targeting prison gang - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

18 indicted in federal racketeering case targeting dominant prison gang

Opherro Jones Opherro Jones
Vaopele Iiga Vaopele Iiga
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A federal grand jury has indicted 18 men in a racketeering case involving the USO Family, a group federal prosecutors called the dominant prison gang in Hawaii.

"Over the last 15 years, the USO family has evolved from a small ethnic prison group to a full-scale modern urban gang," said FBI Special Agent In Charge Vida Bottom.

The Sept. 12 indictment targeted 17 inmates and one former Halawa Prison guard.  Unsealed Tuesday, the indictment claimed the defendants engaged in narcotics trafficking, violence, threats of violence, bribery and fraud in Hawaii and elsewhere.

"One of the principle activities of this gang is to distribute controlled substances.  Another major activity was to file fraudulent tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service to obtain refunds to fund their activities inside and outside the prisons," said U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni.

The USO Family formed in 1998 by Hawaii inmates in Oklahoma where they were sent to alleviate overcrowding. But the gang now operates both inside and outside prisons in the islands. The group is the "dominant prison gang" in Hawaii, the indictment said, but is also active on the mainland and is recognized as a major prison gang nationally.

Those indicted for racketeering include three men identified by sources familiar with prison gangs as gang leaders: Opherro Jones, 39, the alleged USO leader from Halawa Prison.  William Shinyama, 43, the former USO leader at the Arizona prison where Hawaii prisoners are housed and Vaopele Iiga, 35, a founding member of the group.  

"Over time, the organization evolved into a multi-cultural, mixed-race prison gang, with no ethnic Samoan requirement for membership," said Bottom.

Five of the men charged in the case appeared in federal court Tuesday morning and pleaded not guilty to the charges. Their trial has been set for late November. Some of them had been brought to the court from Halawa Prison, where they are already serving sentences for other crimes.

The indictment charged the following six defendants with a racketeering conspiracy consisting of multiple acts of fraud, methamphetamine and marijuana distribution, and bribery:

- Charlie Esera, 46

- Billy Wond, 38

- Opherro Jones, 39

- David Kahui, 34

- Robin Lee, 52

- Feso Malufau, 54, a 25-year prison guard who was fired in September 2012, according to prison officials.

The indictment further charges the following 13 defendants with assaulting three different persons (in three different counts of the indictment) for the purpose of gaining entrance to or maintaining or increasing position within the USO Family:

- James Moser, 24

- Paul Togia, 33

- Vaofele Iiga, 35

- Clarence Butler, 34

- Potaufa Ula, 27

- Shadrach Unea, 28

- Moses Thompson, 34

- Daniel Kenolio, 28

- Opherro Jones

- William Shinyama, 43

- Tineimalo Adkins, 33

- Akoni Davis, 24

- Travis Nishioka, 24

Defendant Lee is also charged with six counts of making false claims for income tax refunds for four of the other defendants.  The indictment alleges that the filing of fraudulent tax returns for refunds is an activity the USO Family used to fund its operations, including bribing prison guards.

"that money was turned into money they used to bribe, buy drugs, pay people. Basically, they funded their organization stealing from the Treasury," said Kenneth Hines, of the Internal Revenue Service's criminal investigation office in Seattle.

The USO Family has evolved into an organized group with rules and regulations that must be followed by each member, the indictment said. Each prison facility has its own leadership structure, prosecutors said.

The members of the group refer to each other as "uso," the Samoan word for brother, the indictment said.


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