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USO Family gang members’ fed indictment revealed

A federal indictment charging 18 individuals with racketeering and other federal crimes detailed information in a federal investigation into the “USO Family”, a dominant prison gang in Hawai’i and a “major prison gang nationally.”


USO stands for United Samoan Organization and “uso” means “brother” in Samoan. Federal officials say the USO Family gang does not have a presence in the territory, while the indictment states that members of the group and their associates “engaged in acts involving narcotics trafficking, violence, threats of violence, bribery and fraud” within Hawai’i and elsewhere.


The 14-page federal grand jury indictment was originally handed down on Sept. 12th but was unsealed this past Tuesday when some of the defendants made their initial appearances in the federal court in Honolulu, according to court documents.


Florence T. Nakakuni, the U.S. Attorney for Hawai’i, said in a news release that the indictment charged six defendants with a racketeering conspiracy consisting of multiple acts of fraud, methamphetamine and marijuana distribution, and bribery.


The defendants are: Charlie Esera, 46; Billy Wond, 38; Opherro Jones, 39; David Kahui, 34; Robin Lee; 52; and Feso Malufau, 54.


The indictment also charges 12 defendants with assaulting three different people - in three different counts of the indictment -  for the purpose of gaining entrance to, maintaining, or increasing position within the USO Family.


The defendants charged are: James Moser, 24; Paul Togia, 33; Vaofele Liga, 35; Clarence Butler, 34; Potaufa Ula, 27; Shadrach Unea, 28; Moses Thompson, 34; Daniel Konelio, 28; Opherro Jones; William Shinyama, 43; Tineimalo Adkins, 33; Akoni Davis, 24; and Travis Nishioka, 24.


According to the indictment, the USO family is a “dominant prison gang in the District of Hawaii and is present  enough on the mainland to be recognized as a major prison gang nationally.”


Calling the group an “Enterprise”, the indictment alleges that the purpose of the USO Family is to, among other things, create fear and intimidation that shields members through violent behavior; and assist other members when they are in trouble, in addition to preserving, protecting and expanding the power and reputation of the USO family through the use of intimidation, violence, threats of violence, assault, attempted murder, murder, tax fraud and bribery.




The indictment alleges that one of the principal activities of the USO Family and its members is the sale of controlled substances, with various gang members obtaining methamphetamine and marijuana from the mainland and Hawai’i through various suppliers.


The contraband is brought into the prisons by prison personnel and distributed to prisoners. In return, the drugs and other contraband - such as cigarettes - are sold to other inmates for profit, it alleges, and noted that payments are made via Western Union, Money Gram or other means by relatives of prison customers.


The indictment states that several features of the USO Family have remain constant over the years. For example, it’s an organized group with rules and regulations that must be followed by each member and the rules are set to ensure loyalty by USO members, who participate in the organization’s criminal activities.


It also says that each prison facility has its own leadership structure and has some autonomy from the national organization.


The indictment describes what it called a “defined structure” of the organization, whose leadership includes captains, lieutenants, soldiers and “shot callers” - someone who is in charge of a prison module and can “call the shots”.


“Nothing can be done without prior approval of a shot caller,” the indictment alleges.


Regular members are referred to as soldiers and USO Family members frequently refer to each other as “uso.” An individual wanting to become an USO member is called a prospect or “21”  and is sponsored by an USO family member.


The leadership role is limited to leading USO council meetings and discussions as well as investigating allegations of misconduct or violations of the USO rules by members or prospects. “In general, assaults or murders are ordered and approved by shot callers,” the indictment alleges. “USO membership is for life.”


The indictment states that members have tattoos that include the word “USO” or “21” but some members have avoided tattoos in an effort to shield their association from law enforcement. Members without tattoos are called “undercover USO”.


The USO motto is “Love, Honor, Respect and Loyalty” and the following Bible verse is part of their initiation: “Where you will go, I will go; Where you lay, I will lay and where you die, I will die”.


Some of the rules in place include never laying a hand on and never turning your back on another USO, and never mess around with another USO’s wife/girl. In addition, there is the “Omerta” - the code of silence.


“Any violation of the rules of membership may result in harsh penalties including death,” the indictment said.




The indictment charges Lee with six counts of making false claims for income tax refunds for Wond, Esera, Jones and Kahui. Total refund checks received between 2005 and 2011 is more than $11,000.


The indictment alleges that another “prominent activity” of the USO Family is filing fraudulent tax returns, which are prepared and submitted in prison or are done through surrogates outside of prison.


The refunds are deposited directly into bank accounts controlled by members of the scheme to fund USO Family operations both in and out of prison. The funds are used, among other things, to bribe prison guards.