Saying the community is tired and weary of violent crimes involving guns, federal and state law enforcement announced some hefty charges against four men suspected in a long string of armed robberies across the Salt Lake Valley.
During a press conference Friday, U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman announced a 24-count indictment had been handed up by a federal grand jury against Viliami Loumoli, 20, of Salt Lake City; Filikisi Hafoka, 19, of Salt Lake City; Siale Angilau, 20, of Salt Lake City; and John Taukalau, 20, of Magna. The men are charged with violating the federal Hobbs Act by using, carrying, brandishing or discharging a firearm during a violent crime.
Federal prosecutors say the men face substantial prison time if convicted. For the first count, the group faces a 10-year mandatory sentence with 25 years mandatory for each subsequent conviction. In all, Tolman said the four face mandatory sentences ranging from 60 to 185 years in prison.
"Shots were fired during some of these robberies," Tolman said, adding "I think our community is tired and grows weary," of violent criminals using firearms.
Police say during a nine-month period, a group of people had been holding up fast-food restaurants and stores across the valley in aggressive, takeover-style robberies.
The men are suspected in at least 12 violent robberies between July 24, 2007, and March 21, 2008. During one robbery for beer at a 7-Eleven, a clerk was shot and critically injured.
Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank said the group made sure to hit businesses in different cities across the valley and to target out-of-the-way businesses to avoid too much police attention.
Burbank credited the break in the case to the cooperation among several local and federal law enforcement agencies in putting together the crimes and making the arrests.
The four are among six people arrested in April as part of a SWAT operation involving 125 officers from nine local, state and federal agencies. Officers simultaneously served search warrants on eight residences and nine vehicles. Police reported seizing more than 20 firearms, including assault rifles, shotguns and handguns.When asked about the group's connection to a known Tongan gang, Tolman said he could not confirm that. Tolman did say authorities do plan to run traces on the firearms recovered from the raids and the investigation is ongoing.
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