LAND O’ LAKES – A three-year, multi-organization investigation dubbed Operation Blackjack resulted 39 arrests last week of gang members and affiliates associated with a motorcycle gang known as the Unforgiven and the white supremacist group the United Aryan Brotherhood.
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco held a press conference Nov. 15 to detail the long-term operation, joined by U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida Maria Chapa Lopez and Craig Kailimai, assistant special agent in charge of the Tampa Field Division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
According to a press release provided at the press conference, Operation Blackjack focused on arms and narcotics trafficking activities centered in Pasco County. The 39 individuals arrested were charged with various federal firearms and drug violations that carry potential sentences of two years to life in prison. Of the 39 defendants, 28 reside in Pasco, three are from Hernando and three are from Hillsborough. The other five are from Manatee, Orange, Pinellas, Polk and Sumter counties.
Kailimai stated that law enforcement seized more than 110 firearms, improvised explosive devices such as pipe bombs, an inert AT4 shoulder-fired anti-tank rocket launcher, multiple pounds of methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl, and several thousand pills of MDMA, or Ecstasy.
“It’s scary when you look over at that table and you see those guns … and they’re in the hands of felons,” Nocco said during the press conference, referring to a display of replica versions of items confiscated during the operation.
“Operation Blackjack” began in October 2015 as an ATF investigation into the motorcycle gang known as the Unforgiven, Chapa Lopez said. “This organization is primarily a prison gang. These are individuals who have spent time in prison and continue their activities when they come back out. They’ve established their membership while they’re in prison and they continue to work both inside and outside the prison system.”
The investigation grew steadily since 2015 as ATF collaborated with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s Office “to proactively target the leaders, enforcers distributors and sources of supplies of drugs and weapons,” Chapa Lopez said.
The length of the investigation was necessary, Nocco said, as law enforcement dug deeper into the criminal organizations involved.
“These are long-term investigations,” the sheriff said. “I know there are so many people out there that want the quick fix. They see crime going on … and we all want to take care of it right now, but as this investigation kept going and going we kept finding more people involved in selling drugs and selling guns out there. We wanted to make sure we could make as much of an impact as possible.”
Twenty-four of the 39 defendants arrested were already convicted felons. Arrests made as a result of Operation Blackjack are aimed at putting them back in prison for extended stays.
“They’re going back to prison and they’ll be going back to prison for a long time because they have some serious charges they’ll be facing,” Nocco said.
“We will continue to use every tool at our disposal and in our arsenal to prosecute those who persist in purveying violent crime and drug trafficking in our streets,” Chapa Lopez said.