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Associated Press, Published January 25 2012

UPDATED: Minnesota prison system temporarily locked down during takedown of alleged gang members

MINNEAPOLIS — A statewide takedown of several suspected Native Mob gang members prompted a rare lockdown of Minnesota's entire prison system, so authorities could ensure that word of the arrests didn't get out and protect the safety of officers in the field, officials said Wednesday.

A sweeping, 47-count indictment partially unsealed Tuesday charges 24 alleged gang members with conspiracy to participate in racketeering and other counts.

Six of the defendants — who face charges including attempted murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, and drug charges — were arrested Tuesday in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and on the White Earth, Mille Lacs and Leech Lake Indian reservations in northern Minnesota.

But 12 of those charged were already in custody on other charges and had to be re-arrested in prison, U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Jeanne Cooney said.

Because officials didn't want inmates to warn those on the outside about possible arrests, all of the state's 9,500 inmates were confined to their cells from 4 a.m. Tuesday until 5 a.m. Wednesday, and weren't allowed any phone calls or visitors.

Department of Corrections spokesman John Schadl said it was "very important for the integrity of the operation and the safety of the people in the field that no word get out."

Six more suspects remained at large Wednesday.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the Native Mob is a regional criminal gang that started in Minneapolis in the 1990s and has roughly 200 members, recruited from areas with large numbers of young Native American males. Authorities said its members have been involved in drug trafficking, assault, robbery and murder.

The indictment said that since at least the mid-1990s, the defendants and others conspired to conduct criminal activity through the Native Mob, in violation of the federal anti-racketeering law. The indictment said the objective was to enhance the gang's power, territory and financial gain.

The indictment said the gang members distributed drugs ranging from crack cocaine to ecstasy, supported other gang members financially, shared police reports, witness statements and other information with each other, and intimidated witnesses.

The defendants are also accused of circulating firearms for use in acts of violence, including murder, against rival gang members.

Schadl said lockdowns are used for many reasons, including to control disturbances and keep order in a facility. Lockdowns of individual living units or single institutions occur a few times each month, but it's rare to lock down all the prisons at once, he said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said about 100 to 150 local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement officers took part in the arrests, after a long-term multiagency investigation.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.