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Davis Journal

There’s a lot of gang activity going on – even in Davis County

Aug 12, 2022 01:56PM ● By Becky Ginos

Federal prosecutors Stewart Young (center left) and Stephen Nelson received the National Association of Former United States Attorneys' (NAFUSA) Exceptional Service Award for their work with the Utah Gang Initiative. They have helped prosecute more than 300 federal cases involving meth, guns and Mexican drug cartels. Courtesy photo

NORTH SALT LAKE—Over the past five years, Assistant United States Attorneys Stewart Young and Stephen Nelson’s work with the Utah Gang Initiative increased federal prosecutions of violent gang members in the state of Utah and helped decrease gang crime in Salt Lake County by 32.8%. It is one of the most successful projects undertaken by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

Young and Nelson have also resolved 150-200 state cases for all the county attorney’s offices throughout the state. Both prosecutors recently received the National Association of Former United States Attorneys' (NAFUSA) Exceptional Service Award for their efforts. 

“This award is given to only 10 federal prosecutors in the entire country,” said Young, who lives in North Salt Lake. “That’s out of about 5,000 or so. Every federal prosecutor does a great job. I’m lucky to be honored. I think it is because of the volume and longevity of the work.”

After graduating from Stanford law school, Young worked in San Diego prosecuting Mexican drug cartels. “My wife is also an attorney and she said she wanted to move back to Utah,” he said. “There happened to be an opening in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and I’ve worked here for 10 years. It’s a wonderful job. It’s fulfilling to serve the public and make the community safer.”

There’s a lot of gang activity going on in Salt Lake and Davis Counties – we’re not immune, said Young. “The Utah Gang Initiative targets violent gang members. We’ve worked with the FBI, the Davis Narcotics Strike Force and other agencies to prosecute 300 to 400 federal cases over the last five years of meth, guns and Mexican drug cartels that have connections with violent gangs in Utah.”

Over the last four years, Young and Nelson have conducted five large scale Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) gang cases which include OCDETF Operation Peanut Butter & Chocolate (DEA and FBI wiretap case in 2017: 24 gang defendants, that all pleaded guilty with sentences up to 15 years, that resulted in 41 pounds of methamphetamine and 17 firearms seized.) OCDETF Operation Parental Advisor (FBI and ATF wiretap case in 2018: 17 gang defendants in five separate indictments, with all but one defendant pleading guilty to sentences up to 13 years, resulting in seizures of 21 pounds of methamphetamine, two pounds of heroin, 10 handguns and two rifles) and several other major cases, according to the nomination letter.

When the stats came in, gang violence had dropped 32 percent, based in part because of the Gang Initiative, said Young. “It’s intelligence based. Agents and police officers build a network of who the players are and who makes the most sense to look at. Our part is to prosecute the case from beginning to end, through arrest to conviction.”

Young said they consult with them before they make the arrest. “There are a lot of technical things in putting together a case. They will seek warrants from the court and we make sure we’re available to agents 24/7. They might call at 2 in the morning to talk things out. Communication is very important.”

The Gang Initiative will continue, he said. “There’s always work to be done.” λ