Feds crack down on St. Louis area violence, charging 159 and seizing piles of guns, drugs

A four-month crackdown on St. Louis area violent crime has produced charges against nearly 160 people along with seizures of more than 260 guns and enough illegal drugs to weigh as much as a bowling ball, federal law enforcers announced Thursday.

Led by 80 of the nation's agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, authorities purchased or confiscated more than seven pounds of marijuana, three pounds of cocaine, 25 ounces of methamphetamine and a pound and a half of heroin.

An estimated street value of the drugs was not immediately available.

The sting, launched in April, focused on St. Louis and crime-ridden East St. Louis, Ill., snaring 159 defendants who together have 1,718 previous arrests. Roughly eight out of 10 of the suspects are previously convicted felons, authorities said.

"Today's work is by no means finished," B. Todd Jones, the ATF's acting director said in announcing results of the crackdown.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay called it "one of the most significant law enforcement operations in our city in the last decade."

Ninety-nine of the defendants face federal charges in eastern Missouri, while 47 are being prosecuted in federal court in southern Illinois. Eleven face charges in St. Louis city courts, while one defendant apiece is being prosecuted in Illinois' St. Clair and Madison counties. The charges run the gamut, from gun offenses to those involving drugs and robbery, authorities said.

Calling poverty-stricken East St. Louis statistically "the most violent city in America," southern Illinois' U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton heralded the outcome of "this intense surge of enforcement, to seek out, disrupt, and prosecute those violent and dangerous offenders who make life intolerable for the rest of us."

More than 150 law enforcers swept the region Wednesday, searching for those defendants not already in custody. Suspects still on the lam Thursday were considered fugitives.