A federal dragnet has snared an increasing number of suspected armed carjackers who have been terrorizing and robbing motorists around the Twin Cities for months.

Six men ages 18 to 23 are now charged in U.S. District Court with pulling off auto thefts, robberies, drug deals and other crimes largely in St. Paul from May until January, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a news release issued Tuesday.

Charged with conspiracy to commit a crime of violence while armed and other related felony counts are four defendants from St. Paul: Joshoamei D. Richardson, 19; James B. Williams Jr., 20; Clifton G. Walker Jr., 23; and Eric T. Ballard Jr., 18. Similarly charged are Jordan S. Rhodes, 22, of White Bear Lake, and Isaiah S. Alstad, 22, of Columbia Heights.

The court ordered all six to remain in custody pending further proceedings.

While two defense attorneys declined to comment and two others have yet to respond to messages, the remaining two pushed back Tuesday at what the U.S. Attorney's Office is alleging.

"The government can always indict, but the jury gets to hear what the truth is," Kenneth Udoibok said on behalf of Rhodes. "I believe that if you read the indictment, there is some level of exuberance. I don't want to say exaggerated, but there are some liberties taken [and] we believe the story is bound to change."

Richardson's attorney, Bruce Rivers, said rhetorically, "I wonder why the government would issue a press release on a pending case when the defense will try this case with a jury, rather than before the public."

Law enforcement has said the six are members of the "Top 5" street gang, and they pulled off their crimes for the financial benefit of their gang in order for them to carry out shootings and assaults against rivals.

Walker, Ballard, Rhodes and Alstad are newly indicted; Richardson and Williams were already charged last fall.

These violent acts have been part of a troubling surge of brazen carjackings that has left residents on edge. Perpetrators tend to approach victims on the street, sidewalk or parking lot — often while they're distracted with routine tasks. During one seven-week stretch late last year, Minneapolis police logged at least 76 carjackings or attempts.

Top 5 gang members were especially busy on Aug. 25, carrying out three carjackings in St. Paul at gunpoint in less than seven hours, according to prosecutors.

About 2:30 a.m. Williams and Ballard carjacked a BMW near the 1200 block of Jackson Street and assaulted the driver.

Shortly before 7 a.m., Richardson, Williams, Alstad, Walker and Ballard threatened to kill a motorist before commandeering a Dodge Charger from a Subway restaurant parking lot in the 300 block of White Bear Avenue.

About 9 a.m., Richardson, Williams, Alstad and Ballard carjacked a Subaru Outback on Maria Avenue near Metropolitan State University in St. Paul.

School officials posted a security alert on its website that same day that said the victim was "one of our university members" who did "everything right during the situation. She immediately gave her possessions and keys to the criminals when demanded and was able to leave without any physical harm to herself or anyone around her."

Juvenile records in state court identify Richardson as founding member of EBK, a St. Paul street gang.

Williams also was charged in Ramsey County with aggravated robbery after an Oct. 12 incident in St. Paul, where he allegedly pressed a gun into the back of a man walking to work, and demanded his phone and wallet.

Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482