KINGMAN - A pipe bomb and a sawed-off shotgun were among the illegal items seized Thursday when a multi-agency undercover investigation dubbed Operation Street Sweeper concluded with a pre-dawn raid that targeted Mohave County's "worst of the worst."
More than 60 law enforcement officers from federal, state and local agencies took part in the raid, which occurred simultaneously throughout Mohave County, although most of the warrants were executed in the Greater Kingman area, according to Kingman Police Chief Robert DeVries.
For seven months, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and members of the county's multi-jurisdictional Mohave Area General Narcotics Enforcement Team carried out undercover operations in which they purchased 78 firearms, including 27 that were stolen, and several sawed-off shotguns.
Also reportedly purchased were 66 explosive blasting caps, thousands of rounds of ammunition and 88 grams of methamphetamine.
According to officials, large amounts of cash were not seized.
Armed with 26 arrest warrants, officers took 16 people into custody during the raid, two more later on Thursday and they continue to look for eight more as of 5 p.m. Thursday.
According to DeVries, the 26 defendants have a combined 66 felony convictions, and all of them are at risk to be convicted of more.
The cases of 23 of the defendants will occur in federal court. They will be arraigned in Phoenix today.
The months-long investigation, said DeVries, implicates them in crimes ranging from felons possessing firearms, home invasions, armed robberies and shootings.
Other crimes alleged include trafficking in explosives and firearms, and distributing narcotics.
Sheriff Tom Sheahan credited cooperation between the agencies for the success of the operation.
In addition to the ATF, MAGNET is comprised of agencies that include lead agency Kingman Police, the Mohave County Sheriff's Office, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, and other local law enforcement agencies.
"All of those arrested today and those who have not been located and are being sought are very dangerous individuals who have been in possession of, or used firearms illegally," said Sheahan, who stressed prosecutions regarding firearms could succeed using gun laws already on the books.
"Strict enforcement of existing gun laws protects the Second Amendment rights of honest, law abiding (and) responsible gun owners," said Sheahan.
Tom Atteberry, the special agent in charge of the ATF's Phoenix Field Division, said Operation Street Sweeper is part of the ATF "business plan" that targets violent criminals and gangs.
No gang members were arrested on Thursday, according to DeVries, but the defendants were loosely connected.
"ATF aggressively pursues violent criminals who threaten the safety of our citizens and our communities by illegally obtaining firearms," said Atteberry. "ATF and MAGNET will continue working together to go after these individuals to take them off our streets."
Atteberry said the operation focused on the "worst of the worst" of the county's criminals.
The pipe bomb and a sawed-off shotgun were seized at the one home for which officers obtained a search warrant. An ATF agent rendered the improvised explosive device safe, said Atteberry.
The search for the eight fugitives will be aggressive, said Atteberry.
In addition to the 18 targeted individuals arrested, four other people not targeted in the raid were arrested on misdemeanor warrants.
Most of those arrested face charges related to guns and drugs and all but two of them will be prosecuted in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.
In addition to the KPD, Sheriff's Office and ATF, the Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City police departments, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Mohave County Attorney and United States Attorney for the District of Arizona participated in this morning's raid.