YOUNGSTOWN - Authorities say the city's East Side is safer today following the arrest of several suspected area gang members.
A Mahoning County grand jury returned a 48-count indictment and 11 of 16 members of the "Vic Boys" were arrested Monday on various offenses, including drug trafficking and possession, weapons charges and participation in a criminal gang.
In concert with the FBI and the Mahoning Valley Violent Crimes Task Force, police began zoning in on the Vic Boys when intelligence indicated suspected members were involved in several shootings in the city. Police Chief Rod Foley said at a news conference Monday at City Hall that the group operates out of the housing project located on Victory Estates.
"We started investigating felonious assaults, homicides and other crimes, and we realized that this was one of the major groups that we needed to take off the streets in order to rid that community on the East Side of these problems," Foley said.
Of the 16 individuals named in the secret indictment, three are juveniles, with more arrests possible.
"This is an ongoing effort," Foley said. "Additional members may be targeted in the future."
According to Stephen D. Anthony, special agent in charge of the FBI's Cleveland office, the arrests serve notice to those conducting gang-related crimes around the city.
"The individuals indicted last week and arrested this morning are charged with serious offenses representing their willingness to engage in violent acts putting our community at risk," Anthony said. "As evidenced by this continuing investigation, the FBI will work with our law enforcement partners to target and eliminate the most significant threats to our communities."
Named in the indictment are two men arrested in the slaying of 16-year-old De'Vail Fleeton in 2012. Curtis Jones, 21, and Devante Gilmore, 19, are serving sentences of 12 and nine years, respectively, in the killing.
Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said the arrests serve as an example of several agencies and the community working together to clean up the streets.
"It's all about sharing intelligence and working together," Gains said.
Foley said the sweep is a part of Youngstown's Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) program. Members of CIRV were also on hand for the announcement. The group works to steer at-risk individuals away from recidivism.
William "Guy" Burney, coordinator of the CIRV program, said gang members are given the option of moving in the right direction or paying the price.
"We are happy to help those that want to improve their lives and move in the right direction," Burney said. "Unfortunately, there are those individuals who made the choice that got them here. So, I commend law enforcement today.
"Either you go and get the help you need, or you'll be meeting our law enforcement partners," he said.
Along with member involvement in felonious assaults and homicides, Foley said the group trafficks a high volume of drugs - including cocaine, marijuana and some heroin - and illegal gun possession.
"This individual group has known for some time that we've been out there trying to address this issue of violence and drug trafficking," Foley said. "We felt that due to the high-risk factors in the city of Youngstown, this was the next group that we needed to target. We want to bring some peace back to (the Victory Estates) area."
Youngstown police officers Marc Gillette and Steve Woodberry, along with Boardman Detective John Martin, lead the effort to investigate the Vic Boys, according to police.
"I praise the hard work and dedication of the many task force officers and agents involved in this investigation," assistant prosecutor Martin Desmond said. "Thanks to their collaboration, the Vic Boys violent hold on this community has come to an end."