Chaldeans feel backlash after crime ring bust

uti1607038_t593.jpgEL CAJON — Chaldean church leaders have received a handful of hateful phone calls and emails in the days following the highly publicized bust of a drug- and gun-trafficking ring headquartered at a Chaldean social club in El Cajon, authorities said Wednesday.

The messages — some threatening, others questioning the patriotism of the local Chaldean community — prompted Christian Iraqi leaders and law enforcement to caution against judging an entire community of people for the bad actions of a few.

“They were unfair criticisms on people that had nothing to do with this investigation,” said El Cajon Police Chief Pat Sprecco at a news conference hosted by Chaldean community leaders at St. Peter’s Chaldean Catholic Cathedral.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, whose office is prosecuting at least 21 of the defendants in the case, said the insults to Chaldeans as a whole was concerning.

“We want to caution that when people get branded … what we see as a result of that is hate crimes,” Dumanis said. “It arouses prejudice and bias in people, and they act out in a violent manner, and we want to put a stop to that now.”

Sixty people have been arrested as part of the investigation dubbed “Operation Shadowbox,” and more arrests are pending, police said. The joint operation between police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration identified the Chaldean social club at 811 E. Main St. as the trafficking hub of guns, drugs and explosives. The investigation also found ties to the Mexican-based Sinaloa drug cartel and the Detroit-based Chaldean Organized Crime Syndicate, which has been operating since the early 1980s.

Of the 33 people being prosecuted so far, only about five appear to be Chaldean. A few others appear to be of Middle Eastern or Latino descent, while the ethnicities of others could not be determined by name alone.

Authorities would not comment on the ethnicities of the arrestees, and police have declined to release the names of the other 27 who have been arrested, citing the ongoing investigation.

Former state Sen. Wadie Deddeh described his dismay at the “black eye” the investigation and ensuing media coverage has given Chaldeans. An estimated 39,000 Chaldeans reside in the East County — the second largest concentration in the nation, behind Detroit.

Deddeh said he attended a Mass recently, and as he shook the priest’s hand he mentioned he was Chaldean. A woman behind him responded, “I wouldn’t brag about it.”

The comment “shocked” him, he said.

“Don’t blame a whole community,” Deddeh urged.