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Six are arrested in string of Salt Lake Valley armed robberies

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Editor's note: Although Hutcherson was arrested, investigators eventually determined she had nothing to do with the crimes and was released. No charges related to the aggravated robberies or gang enhancements were filed. Charges also were not filed against Lauti.

A nine-month investigation into a string of aggressive and dangerous armed robberies throughout the Salt Lake Valley has resulted in the arrests of six people who are believed to be either members or associates of the same gang.

The group was arrested following a massive SWAT operation Saturday involving 125 officers from nine local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. The officers simultaneously served search warrants on eight residences and nine vehicles, said Salt Lake City police detective Jared Wihongi. More than 20 firearms, including assault rifles, shotguns and handguns were seized.

For the past nine months, a group of people has been terrorizing fast food restaurants and stores across the valley with a series of aggressive, takeover-style robberies. Investigators believe this weekend's arrests will solve more than 20 aggravated robberies and at least one shooting. Some of the cases police believe they have now solved:

• On July 24, 2007, a 7-Eleven clerk at 515 N. 300 West was critically injured when he was shot by three men committing a beer theft.

• On Feb. 14, Rancherito's, 1860 S. Redwood Road, was robbed by two men. Witnesses said one carried a sawed-off pump shotgun.

• Gen X Clothing in West Valley was robbed at gunpoint Dec. 21, 2007.

• On March 2, Alberto's Restaurant, near 4900 S. State, was robbed at gunpoint.

• On March 15, Chuck-a-Rama, 744 E. 400 South, was robbed by two men at gunpoint. One was carrying a shotgun or rifle.

There have been other aggravated robberies in which the suspect descriptions were similar, but police did not say Monday whether they were also part of the 20 they believe were committed by the group. Some of those robberies included:

• On Feb. 9, three men wearing dark clothing fired a shot inside a Wendy's restaurant, 919 W. 2100 South, before robbing the cash registers. No one was injured.

• On Feb. 1, Molca Salsa, 2901 E. 3300 South, was robbed. A shot was fired into the ceiling in that incident, but no one was injured.

• In March, Sonic, 4577 S. 4000 West, was robbed at gunpoint by two men wearing dark hoodies and bandanas over their faces.

• About 35 minutes following the Chuck-a-Rama robbery March 15, two men robbed Winger's in West Bountiful, near 500 West and 500 South. One man was carrying a shotgun. One shot was fired into the building after the men left. No one was injured.

• In January, four men entered Factory 4 U, 3568 S. Redwood Road, one carrying a handgun and another a shotgun. One shot was fired into the ceiling before the store was robbed. The thieves wore black sweatshirts and bandanas over their faces.

Questions were raised by the media about whether the group also was connected to three people arrested in connection with the homicide of a clerk at the Family Dollar store in Glendale. Wihongi said there was no evidence to show those arrested over the weekend were connected to murder, although the parties involved may know those arrested over the weekend since they are all from the same area.

"One of the arrested individuals is also being charged with the attempted homicide of a federal agent on August 11, 2007, in Salt Lake City," Wihongi said.

On that date, a U.S. Marshall and a police officer were fired upon from a passing vehicle. Officers tracked the vehicle license plate and found the vehicle was registered to a house at 636 S. Emery St. — the residence where Biu Olive and a juvenile were arrested this year in connection with the Family Dollar Store homicide.

Those arrested this weekend include: Filikisi Hafoka, 19; 20-year-old Viliami Loumoli; 20-year-old John Tuakalau; 21-year-old Daniel Maumau; 25-year-old Sally Hutcherson; and 32-year-old Fatafehi Lauti.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com