Indictment of 17 Hawaii inmates caused "disorganization" of gang - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Indictment of 17 Hawaii inmates caused "disorganization" of major prison gang

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Two weeks after the federal government took 17 Hawaii inmates into custody in a large prison gang case, state prisons officials said the sweep has made Hawaii prisons much safer. 

Federal prosecutors announced the indictment of the Hawaii prison inmates and one former corrections officer September 24.  

They're charged in what authorities said is a criminal conspiracy to operate the state's dominant prison gang known as the USO Family. 

"Having these leaders removed will cause some disorganization for the gangs in prison," said Max Otani, the state Public Safety Department's deputy director of corrections.  

He said when inmates like the alleged leader of the gang at Halawa, Opherro Jones, 39, were taken from Halawa Prison to the Federal Detention Center near Honolulu Airport, Halawa immediately benefited from having those gang-connected inmates removed. 

"Anybody that continues to commit crimes while incarcerated in our prisons would be detrimental to us. So having them removed from our facilities is a big plus," Otani said. 

Because of overcrowding in Hawaii prisons, Otani said it's very difficult to separate suspected gang members.   

But he said it's much easier for the feds to keep inmates apart. 

"With gang members, it's important sometimes to separate them.  They (the federal government) have that ability. They have a lot of facilities throughout the United States where they can actually house gang members separately," Otani said. 

Otani told Hawaii News Now state prison officials contacted the federal government to start the USO Family investigation after they suspected some inmates were committing federal tax fraud by getting illegal refunds. 

"Being that these were tax crimes, we felt it was appropriate to deal with the federal investigators at that time," Otani said. "As far as the intelligence of the prisons, they relied on us, because we had investigators and officers in the prisoners who could provide the actual layout of the prisons, who the gang members were." 

Since the federal officials have better investigative resources and tougher criminal sentences than the state, Otani said it made sense to call them in. 

He said the state must make sure the gang doesn't build itself back up in Hawaii. 

"If you take gang members out, and if you don't do anything about it, gang members will regroup again, and then you'll have leaders again," Otani added. 

Otani said the state needs to provide programs and services for inmates to assure that USO Family gang is not allowed to get a foothold again. 

The Hawaii inmates accused in the case remain in custody at the Federal Detention Center. Their trials are set to begin as early as next month.

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