Members of prison gang with Hawaii roots indicted; it allegedly operates in Nevada

Sep. 24, 2013 | 0 Comments

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HONOLULU — A federal racketeering indictment unsealed Tuesday details allegations against more than a dozen men with ties to a multistate prison gang that has spread as Hawaii sends inmates to mainland prisons.

The indictment alleges the 18 men are members of a prison gang known as “USO Family” involved in drug-trafficking, bribery and violence. One defendant is a former prison guard.

“The USO Family is the dominant prison gang in the district of Hawaii and is present enough on the mainland to be recognized as a major prison gang nationally,” the indictment states.

The FBI said the gang operates in Hawaii, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada prisons after being started by Hawaii inmates in an Oklahoma prison in 1998.

Hawaii sends about one-quarter of its inmates to private prisons on the mainland because of a lack of space at island facilities.

Vida Bottom, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Honolulu division, said USO stands for United Samoan Organization but the gang has no known presence in Samoa. What started as a small, ethnic prison group has evolved into large multi-ethnic operation with 800 members nationwide, she said.

According to the indictment, members are “referred to as soldiers and USO Family members frequently refer to each other as ‘uso,’ the Samoan word for brother.”

The IRS alleges the gang used refunds from fraudulent tax returns to fund their operation. One defendant is charged with making false claims for income tax refunds for four of the other defendants.

“Among other things, such proceeds were used to bribe prison guards in violation of state law,” the indictment states.

The indictment also charges 13 of the defendants with assaulting three different people to gain entrance into the gang or to maintain or increase position with USO Family.

Authorities began the investigation in 2010.