Two former Versailles residents allegedly affiliated with the street gang 22 Boys pleaded not guilty Thursday in federal court to charges of being illegal aliens who made false statements to the government or on official documents.
One of the two, Jesus Aranda-Gaspar, told Versailles police that he was shot at in January by members of the rival Ambrose gang from Lexington. His home in Versailles also was shot at in February, according to Versailles police documents.
Aranda-Gaspar, 20, and Josephina Perez-Chapina, 44, were indicted last week by a federal grand jury in Lexington.
Federal authorities arrested the two in March as part of an investigation of foreign nationals involved in gang activity, according to an affidavit by Homeland Security investigations agent Michael H. Romagnoli.
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That activity included a burglary and two non-injury shootings in Versailles, Romagnoli said in the affidavit.
Versailles Police Chief James Fugate and detective Keith Ford said Thursday that these were isolated incidents and aren’t part of a larger context of gang activity in the Woodford County seat.
Fugate said such incidents are “extremely rare” in Versailles. Ford said “we don’t have a lot of knowledge of gangs present” in Woodford County.
Aranda-Gaspar, who had until recently been working at the Osram Sylvania glass-products plant in Versailles, told police there that a shooting on Jan. 12 happened because he and a juvenile had fought with a few Ambrose gang members from Lexington some weeks before.
The 22 Boys taunted the Ambrose gang members via social media including Facebook, and the juvenile told the Ambrose gang members to come to the Poplar Street-Linden Drive area of west Versailles so they could fight again.
The Ambrose gang members accepted his challenge. On Jan. 12, a white SUV occupied by several Ambrose members drove slowly past the Poplar Street address where Aranda-Gaspar lived. The people in the white SUV yelled profanities and displayed gang hand signs but drove away after a couple of passes.
Aranda-Gaspar told police that he and the juvenile stood with their hands out, and mocked the occupants of the white SUV to get out and fight.
The SUV returned and Aranda-Gaspar saw guns come out of the driver’s window and back passenger window. When the shooting began, Aranda-Gaspar and the juvenile took cover behind a friend’s Toyota, which was struck three times.
Aranda-Gaspar ran to a house for cover, and it also was struck by gunfire. The occupant of that house wasn’t hurt, but her car was hit by a bullet.
Police collected 9mm and .22-caliber shell casings from the intersection of Poplar and Linden, according to a police report.
Aranda-Gaspar told federal authorities that he had formerly claimed membership in the 22 Boys gang. (Bryan Bennett, Aranda-Gaspar’s attorney in federal court, said his client has said “he’s had no relation to gangs.”)
The Poplar Street-Linden Drive area was the scene of another shooting Feb. 16, when Aranda-Gaspar’s home was shot at when he, another adult and four children were inside.
Police arrested Fernando Silva-Fabian, 19, in connection with that shooting and charged him with six counts of first-degree wanton endangerment. Silva-Fabian, an alleged member of the Ambrose gang, was indicted this month by a Woodford County grand jury.
Perez-Chapina, who was working at Quad Graphics commercial printing plant in Versailles at the time of her arrest, is “a known associate” of the 22 Boys gang, according to an affidavit. Romanogli said her affiliation with 22 Boys had been established by Lexington and Versailles police.
The 22 Boys, sometimes referred to as the “Two Two Boys,” trace their formation to 22nd Place and South California Avenue near the Chicago suburb of Cicero. The Ambrose gang originated in Chicago.
Some things are unexplained in the federal affidavits written by Homeland Security Investigations agent Romagnoli. For example, it is unclear how Aranda-Gaspar came to have a Social Security number for a person who was reported dead in October 1986.
Perez-Chapina, meanwhile, had the Social Security number of a man living in Manchester, Romagnoli’s affidavit said.
Aranda-Gaspar and Perez-Chapina both told authorities that they were born in Mexico, that they had illegally entered the United States, and that they didn’t possess documents allowing them to live or work in the United States. They are being held in Grayson County.
Mark Wohlander, defense attorney for Perez-Chapina, said he hasn’t received “anything other than the complaint and affidavit” in his client’s case. Meanwhile, Judge Magistrate Robert Wier scheduled a hearing Monday to hear evidence on whether Aranda-Gaspar should be released or should continue to be detained.
Aranda-Gaspar and Perez-Chapina were each indicted on charges of possession of a forged, counterfeited and falsely made alien registration receipt card; use of a falsely made identification document; and use of a false attestation for purpose of authorization for employment in the United States.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Marye had no comment on the investigation. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman referred questions to the U.S. attorney’s office in Lexington.
It’s unclear whether the arrests of the two were part of a five-week operation dubbed Project Shadowfire led by ICE and Homeland Security.
The national operation, which ran between Feb. 15 and March 21, resulted in 1,133 arrests, including more than 900 transnational criminal gang members and others associated with drug trafficking, human smuggling, sex trafficking, murder and racketeering.