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Gang members and other criminals in four Pennsylvania communities - including York City - have been put on notice: Either stop criminal activity or face hefty federal jail time, potentially life in prison.

Flanked by federal, state and local law enforcement officials and prosecutors, U.S. Attorney Peter Smith announced Wednesday during a press conference at the federal courthouse in Harrisburg that forces have ramped up joint efforts to combat gang activity in York City, Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre and Williamsport.

"This requires the highest level of coordination (among) federal, state and local officials," he said.

York trail: Drawing on the successful prosecution of 12 members of York's Southside gang, Smith said gangs can expect more of the same if they continue the nefarious activity.

"They'll be prosecuted to the fullest," he told a room of reporters.

On Monday afternoon, a federal jury in Harrisburg convicted a dozen Southside members of offenses including racketeering and drug-dealing, the culmination of a nearly eight-week trial. Eight others pleaded guilty and one defendant has not yet gone to trial, according to  the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Southside members worked together to protect their drug-trafficking turf, and each other, through murder, violence, retaliation and intimidation, authorities said.

Sam Rabadi, a special agent with the ATF, said the trial sends gang members involved in ultra-violent activity a strong message that the streets belong to the people.

York County District Attorney Tom Kearney said the trial and the work that went into bringing the gang members to justice was the beginning of this initiative.

"This is a force multiplier for us," he said of the joint effort. "I think it's a great partnership."

Why York?: The four communities were identified as areas most in need of anti-violence solutions, Smith said.

In addition to focusing on gangs and violent crimes, authorities will also target the heroin trade, which has led to an unprecedented number of deaths in recent years. York County had 62 heroin-related deaths in 2014, compared to 17 each of the two previous years.

"We can't ignore this tragedy and serious matter anymore," Smith said.

The strategy includes federal authorities meeting with local and state law enforcement to collect and share intelligence, as well as:

  • targeting high-priority offenders for aggressive prosecution,
  • screening cases for potential federal prosecution and coordinating joint-enforcement activities, and
  • expanding existing prevention and post-conviction re-entry programs.

York City Police Chief Wes Kahley heralded the collaborative effort and said he looks forward to his officers working more closely with federal agents.

"The feds are bringing things to the table that we can't," he said.

But he also praised the work of the department, pointing out it has a high arrest rate, especially when it comes to violent crimes and particularly in homicide cases.

The chief also noted the tireless work city police officers put into the Southside gang trial, which meant long hours away from their families.

"That's the commitment they have to the community to make the quality of life better," Kahley said.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com

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