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5 not released in gang case

Published: Thursday, July 6 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Citing significant adult and juvenile criminal histories, some violent in nature, a federal magistrate judge has ordered five members of the Tiny Oriental Posse to be held in federal custody pending charges of federal racketeering.

During a detention hearing Wednesday morning, defense attorneys argued for the release of the men, citing that they had full-time jobs to support their families among other things.

However, federal prosecutors pointed out that many of the men had histories of violent crimes, including shootings and assaults against rival gang members, as well as drug abuse.

Some defense attorneys took exception to their clients being labeled gang members by prosecutors without any supporting proof that they are members of TOP. One federal prosecutor pointed to a MySpace.com Web site in which one suspect had posted a drawing of a TOP member shooting a rival gang member in the head. Prosecutors also pointed to another suspect's online blog, in which he reportedly threatens "snitches" saying "don't think this is over."

By the end of the hearing, U.S. District Magistrate Judge David Nuffer ordered Brian Chhoun, Niue Fakatou, Daniel Chhoun and Rithhy Chhat to continue to be held in federal custody. William Mathipannha has agreed to remain in state custody at the state prison.

Given Andrew Schmidt's lesser criminal record, Nuffer found he could be released if a $5,000 cash bond was posted. Brian Chhoun has asked for an additional detention hearing time today to argue for his release.

The men are among 14 TOP members who were indicted by a federal grand jury last week under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Federal prosecutors say the gang has a decade-long history of murders, shootings, drug dealing and other violence, including the Nov. 7, 1998, fatal shooting of Bethany Hyde, in which TOP members mistook the car she was in for that of a rival gang member.

In addition to the six men who appeared in court Wednesday, authorities say the remaining eight are currently housed in the Utah State Prison.

In the past few years, federal prosecutors in Utah have used the RICO law, which was designed to go after Mafia organizations, to break up two other violent gangs.


E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com

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