6 charged with 150 felonies

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Police have arrested six young gang members suspected in more than 150 felony crimes across Gwinnett.

The suspects, who include four unidentified juveniles, are affiliates of "South Side Jokers," police said. None of their transgressions appear to be violent crimes, police said.

Since January, the posse is suspected of perpetrating 19 residential and commercial burglaries, 35 car break-ins, two auto thefts and multiple instances of graffiti vandalism, said Gwinnett police spokesman Officer Brian Kelly.

The crimes affected more than 50 victims, police said.

"These suspects have been charged criminally, arrested and are safely off our streets," Kelly said.

The suspects targeted areas in and around Lawrenceville, Suwanee, Norcross and Duluth, police said. Many of the crimes had been reported to police and were under investigation, while detectives discovered "a number of crimes that had gone unreported," Kelly said.

The two teens charged as adults -- Daniel Cardenas, 18, and Dennis Pineda, 17, both of Lawrenceville -- were apprehended last month along with several juveniles when they were caught with a handgun on Collins Hill High School property, authorities said.

Only three were students, officials said.

Through subsequent interviews, police were able to link Cardenas and Pineda to the crime spree, Kelly said. At least two of the juveniles arrested at the school were not involved, he said.

Both Cardenas and Pineda admitted to tagging the school's property with gang markings, police said. Pineda, a Collins Hill student, faces weapons charges and is being held for immigration officials. Police said he was carrying a .38 Special revolver when school authorities questioned the teens in a parking lot.

Kelly said the South Side Jokers claim an affiliation with a national outfit called SUR-13, or Surenos 13, a violent organization based in California.

"(Investigators) don't know if SUR-13 recognizes the South Side Jokers or not," Kelly said.

Exactly how many members claim the local sect is unclear. Investigators have collected street names and monikers for other suspects and are working to obtain solid identifications.

"There are more members," said Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. David Schiralli. "I do not know how many at this time."

The juveniles involved in the crime spree have been released to their parents, Schiralli said.

"They were only involved in a small part of the crimes," he said.

Those crimes -- as outlined in Cardenas' arrest warrant -- include:

* An Aug. 16 burglary at a Duluth home on Club Drive;

* Burglaries on three consecutive days beginning Sept. 19 at a Norcross electronics business in the 4200 block of Phil Neikro Parkway;

* Break-ins on Oct. 10 at dry-cleaning businesses in the 2000 block of Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road in Lawrenceville and the 2200 block of Ga. Highway 20.

A probable cause hearing is scheduled for the two eldest suspects on Tuesday in Gwinnett Magistrate Court.

Police have beefed up operations meant to thwart gang activity in recent years.

Gwinnett police launched a 30-member gang task force in March 2008 as an affront to about 90 known gangs that had a presence in the county.

The gang unit has since been reduced to seven officers, whose efforts are reinforced by a 24-member crime suppression unit, Schiralli said.

"They both work closely together," Schiralli said.