PORTLAND — Twenty-four people have been arrested in Maine as part of a regional action against gangs led by federal immigration authorities.

The effort led to a total of 47 arrests in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Homeland Security Investigations.

Twenty-eight known gang members were arrested, along with people who have ties to the gangs, such as buying drugs from them, according to the office.

Over the past three months, the effort in Maine led to 23 arrests in Portland and one in Westbrook, said Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of the Boston office.

Nineteen of the arrests were made in June in conjunction with a gang task force and five were made this week with Immigration and Customs Enforcement taking the lead, Foucart said Friday.

In Maine, the people arrested were either members of the Asian Boyz and two splinter groups of the Bloods – True Somali Bloods and True Sudanese Bloods – or affiliated with those gangs.

Some were charged with criminal violations including narcotics trafficking, weapons possession, carrying concealed weapons, assault, and violating conditions of release. A few who were arrested for immigration issues will be processed for removal from the United States.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not release the names of the people who were arrested in June, and said it cannot identify those who are going through immigration proceedings.

It wasn’t clear how large an impact the arrests will have on the gangs’ activities.

“That’s the kind of intel that’s intangible. I don’t know if there are 20 more or 100 more,” Foucart said.

Portland Police Chief James Craig said he would defer comment on the arrests to Foucart. Craig said in the spring that he thought the gang situation in Portland was in its infancy.

Craig said Friday that he will not identify gangs by name because he does not want to provide free advertising for them or make them feel they are worthy of public recognition. He also said that he doesn’t want to compromise any of his department’s work on gangs.

“James Craig and the Portland Police Department (are) committed to eradicating gang activity, gang violence and associated narcotics dealing in this city. That is a goal I certainly talked about many, many months ago and I’m still committed,” he said.
The person who was arrested in Westbrook is an associate of the Asian Boyz, Foucart said.

Westbrook Police Chief Bill Baker said that gang is definitely in his city and has connections to several Massachusetts communities: Lowell, Lawrence and Brockton.

Gang members have used safe houses in Westbrook but their criminal activities have been centered primarily in Portland and Massachusetts, Baker said.

“I would even go so far to say there isn’t any visible or active gang activity in Westbrook,” he said. “What there is is people with connections to the gangs, some of whom act badly in Westbrook and get prosecuted for crimes.”

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: akim@pressherald.com