By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A 28-year-old man a Big Island deputy prosecutor once called “a menace in Waimea” was among 18 men indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly being part of a multi-state prison gang that has spread as Hawaii sends its inmates to mainland prisons.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Honolulu said Tuesday that Shadrach Keoni Unea is one of 13 defendants charged with assault for the purpose of gaining entrance to or maintaining or increasing position within the “USO Family,” a prison gang involved in drug trafficking, bribery and violence.
The FBI says the gang operates in Hawaii, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada prisons. Hawaii sends about one-quarter of its inmates to private prisons on the mainland because of insufficient space at island facilities. The indictment states that the USO Family is Hawaii’s dominant prison gang, and operates both inside and outside the state prison system.
USO is an acronym for “United Samoan Organization,” although the gang has expanded to include inmates who are not of Samoan ancestry. Vida Bottom, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Honolulu division, says Hawaii inmates formed the gang in an Oklahoma prison in 1998. According to the indictment, the USO Family has evolved into an organized group with rules and regulations to ensure loyalty by members and participation by members in the criminal activities of the organization. The USO Family enterprise is alleged to have a defined structure, with leadership and “soldier” positions.
Unea is in prison on the mainland, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliott Enoki. He declined to be more specific.
“He is incarcerated by the state,” Enoki said. “We’re trying to get him into federal custody for purposes of the indictment.”
Of the 18 men indicted, Unea is the only Big Islander.
Six of the defendants are charged with what federal authorities described as a racketeering conspiracy consisting of multiple acts of fraud, methamphetamine and marijuana distribution and bribery. They are: Charlie Esera, 46; Billy Wond, 38; Opherro Jones, 39; David Kahui, 34; Robin Lee, 52; and Feso Malufau, 54.
Lee is also charged with six counts of making false claims for income tax refunds for four of the other defendants. The IRS alleges the gang used refunds from fraudulent tax returns to fund its operations, including bribing prison guards.
The others charged with assault, along with Unea, are: Jones; James Moser, 24; Paul Togia, 33; Vaofele Iiga, 35; Clarence Butler, 34; Potaufa Ula, 27; Moses Thompson, 34; Daniel Kenolio, 28; William Shinyama, 43; Tineimalo Adkins, 33; Akoni Davis, 24; and Travis Nishioka, 24.
The indictment states that “on or about July 26, 2010” Unea, Togia, Iiga, Butler, Ula, Thompson and Kenolio “unlawfully and knowingly assaulted, and aided and abetted an assault, resulting in serious physical injury upon K.K.”
Unea was sentenced to 10 years in prison for robbery on June 17, 2004. At the sentencing hearing, Deputy Prosecutor Shannon Kagawa referred to Unea as “a menace in Waimea,” noting that he had been given an opportunity by the court to undergo drug treatment on three occasions, but refused to go. While passing sentence, then-Hilo Circuit Court Judge Terence Yoshioka said that Unea was first arrested at age 13 and had been referred to Family Court 128 times, including 22 times for criminal offenses. He said that although Unea was only 19, he had already been convicted as an adult for domestic abuse and violating a protective order.
In 2007, Unea was sentenced to five years imprisonment for promoting prison contraband.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.