Federal prosecutors say the core members of one of Utah's most violent gangs have pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering and committing crimes of violence for their gang.

In the past few weeks, about 14 members of the Tiny Oriental Posse have struck plea deals in advance of a federal trial which was scheduled to begin on Monday.

Prosecutors say depending on their actions, some TOP members face sentences between two years up to 10 years in federal prison. One member, William Mathipannha, faces up to 30 years. Sentencings have been scheduled for May and early June.

Gang members have been accused of taking part in an array of assaults, home-invasion robberies, drug trafficking and even murders to bolster the standing of their gang.

Among their violent acts was the Nov. 7, 1998, fatal shooting of Bethany Hyde. Police say TOP members mistook Hyde's car for that of a rival gang member.

The group was indicted by a federal grand jury last July. Federal agents say TOP is an Asian gang with no real hierarchy or written rules but whose members demand strong loyalty. Disloyalty to the gang sometimes results in physical punishment.

U.S. Attorney for Utah spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said one TOP member has yet to accept a plea deal, but anticipated that case may be resolved in the next few days.

The guilty pleas makes TOP the third violent gang to be dismantled in Utah by federal prosecutors using RICO or the federal racketeering law.


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