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FOCUS - Chicago Gangs and the New Mob

Is This The Most Deadly of Alliances? 

The Mob's Latest Trend: Farming Out Hits to Gang-Bangers  

The west suburban bookie was furious with a rival bookie for backing out of a deal.

He wanted revenge.

But instead of turning to the mob to rub out his enemy, he took another route: He hired a member of a street gang to do it, investigators say.

Call it a hit by outsourcing.

Law enforcement sources say it's a new trend in mob slayings, a way of getting dangerous jobs done with a minimum of risk to Outfit leaders.

Instead of turning to a brutal mob killer such as Harry Aleman, who is now in prison, mobsters turn to gang-bangers.

Take murder suspect Bruno Mancari, for instance.

Mancari, who has alleged mob ties, was accused in February of reaching out to an associate in the El Rukn street gang to bump off a witness in the murder case against him. Unfortunately for Mancari, an FBI informant was in the same room when Mancari called a mobster associate from Cook County Jail to discuss the hit.

Mancari's attorneys call it all hogwash.

Last year, in another case, Anthony "the Hatch" Chiaramonti was shot to death outside a Brown's Chicken & Pasta in south suburban Lyons.

The shooter was described as a Hispanic man, police said.

Two years before, mob lieutenant Ronald Jarrett was shot and killed outside his Bridgeport home.

The shooter was described as a black man, authorities said.

In the 1995 case involving the furious suburban bookie, one of the alleged gang members involved owed the bookmaker money, so the bookmaker urged the gang member to rob the rival bookie. The gang member then could pay off his debt and keep whatever else he could steal from the rival bookie's Glen Ellyn home, authorities said.

The west suburban bookie told the gang member what day would be best--a day when the target would be sure to have tens of thousands of dollars in cash on hand.

And it was always understood, investigators say, that the rival bookie was to be killed--not just robbed.

The hit fell apart when the DuPage County sheriff's police were tipped off to it. FBI and DuPage investigators caught the gang member and two fellow gang members outside the rival bookie's Glen Ellyn home as they tried to break in.

A fourth burglar escaped into the woods.

While the three gang members were convicted of armed violence and burglary, investigators were never able to put together a good enough case to charge the bookmaker who set the crime in motion. But they were able to save a life.

Gang Nation

The Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords and Latin Kings are among the largest and bloodiest street gangs in Chicago, with thousands of members and factions across the country.

GANGSTER DISCIPLES

Estimated Chicago membership:
30,000.

Racial makeup:
Black.

Symbols:
Six-pointed star, upward crossed pitchforks, BOS (Brothers of the Struggle), and a heart with wings.

Slogans:
"All is One" and "What Up G?"

Alliances:
Folks.

History:
Gangs in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side formed this "nation" of gangs in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The founder was David "King David" Barksdale, who was seriously wounded in an ambush in 1969 and died of kidney failure in 1974. The gang adopted the Jewish Star of David in his honor. The star and the other symbol, the upward pitchfork, are used in the gang's graffiti, jewelry and tattoos. Larry Hoover, serving a life term in prison, is still considered the gang's chairman. When he was convicted in 1997, prosecutors estimated the gang was netting $100 million a year.

VICE LORDS NATION

Estimated Chicago membership:
20,000.

Racial makeup:
Black.

Symbols:
Pyramid with a crescent moon, the letters "VL," a top hat with a cane and gloves, a pair of dice, champagne glass, Playboy bunny head, crescent moon with a five-pointed star, a dollar sign and globes.

Alliance:
People.

History:
The oldest street gang in Chicago, the Vice Lords can be traced to the 1950s when the gang was formed as a club in the Illinois State Training Center for Boys at St. Charles. It evolved into a gang when members returned to their Lawndale neighborhood.

The Vice Lords controlled federal grants to run a teen center and job-training classes for youths on the West Side, allowing the gang to control the neighborhood, experts say. The Chicago police say Willie Lloyd is the leader of the Vice Lords Nation, which comprises eight factions including the Unknown Vice Lords, which he founded. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Lloyd said he called the faction the "Unknown" Vice Lords as a joke, referring to police reports in which unidentified perpetrators were listed as "unknown."

LATIN KINGS

Estimated Chicago membership:
18,000

Racial makeup: Predominantly Mexican and Puerto Rican.

Symbols:
Three-pointed crown, five-pointed crown, five-pointed star, five dots, cross, king's head with a crown, lions, lion's head and letters "LK."

Slogans:
"King of Love" and "Behold Latin King."

Alliance:
People.

History:
Founded more than 30 years ago, the Latin Kings are the oldest Hispanic street gang in Chicago. The gang began in Chicago's Humboldt Park and Southeast Side neighborhoods. Now the gang is in almost every Hispanic community in Chicago. The gang is known for eulogizing slain members in the form of wall murals. Gustavo "Gino" Colon, sentenced to life in May 2000 for running a drug ring while behind bars for murder, is considered the leader of the gang, police say.

SOURCES: Chicago Police Department, National Gang Crime Research Center

Dope sales build secret empires

April 7, 2002  

You can't order a milkshake or a sundae at the "Ice Cream Shop." Only crack cocaine and heroin are on the menu, and gang members take your order.

On a 20-degree day, a young Gangster Disciple in a black parka stands guard in front of one of the low buildings of the Ida B. Wells housing development on the South Side.

While he watches, another teenager strolls up to a slow-cruising Toyota Corolla, a knit stocking cap pulled low over his eyes.

Holding a roll of cash in his gloveless hand, he calls out, "Rock! Blow!" The puffs of his breath vanish in the chilly air, and the Corolla rolls on.

Minutes later, another car pulls up. The kid in the stocking cap hands something to the driver. The driver hands something back. Probably a $10 bill.

 

This will go on all day.

Thousands of street-corner drug sales, the backbone of powerful gang empires in Chicago, rake in more than half a billion dollars a year in drug profits--nearly 1 percent of the city's economy, experts say.

A trickle of this river of cash pays for fancy cars and expensive suburban houses. The rest--the kind of money that would put legitimate enterprises into the Fortune 500--seems to disappear. But, in fact, it flows deep underground, seeping into cell phone stores, nightclubs, beauty shops, apartment buildings, record companies and even Hollywood.

For five months, the Chicago Sun-Times tracked the huge sums made by drug sales by interviewing cops, gang members and university experts, and spending days and nights on neighborhood streets and alleys to see drug dealers at work.

It starts with a dime bag

The trail begins with $10 for a dime bag of dope sold by a teenage foot soldier who earns about twice the minimum wage. Multiply that one transaction by hundreds of sales sold by a crew of gang dealers, and the numbers quickly swell to an estimated $5,000 a day, $1.8 million a year, just at that one stop--the Ice Cream Shop at 38th and Vincennes.

Day and night, "slingers" here openly sell crack cocaine in baggies stamped with ice cream cones--giving the corner its nickname. They also shell out their "Lucky 7" brand of heroin and pass out yellow business cards stamped with a logo of pharmacy bottles and the slogan, "Specializing in Medicine." Their location is boldly printed in blue.

The money is filtered up the gang chain. Dues are paid, SUVs are bought by lieutenants, and houses are purchased in the names of grandmothers. Some of the money ends up in tree-lined suburban neighborhoods, where the more powerful gang members lay their heads at the end of the day, a world away from the projects.

The money disappears into local riverboats and the noisy, gleaming casinos of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. There, it becomes traceless, hidden in casino chips used to pay drug suppliers or laundered as gambling wins.

And sometimes, it's just buried in backyard dirt.

"It's big business,'' said Willie Lloyd, whom police identify as the leader of the Vice Lords Nation, although the 51-year-old grandfather insists he is retired. "You have your accountants, you have your lawyers, everyone you need to be competitive out there in the streets and survive. You have your police for protection.''

Hip-hop wash cycle

Troy Watts was an aspiring music tycoon. He poured heroin profits into his Oak Park recording studio to buy a 2-inch reel-to-reel recorder, a 36-channel mixing board--everything necessary to attract a top-notch hip-hop group.

"Troy Watts lavished money on this studio," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Bindi said in federal court. "He bought state-of-the-art equipment--everything was the best."

Watts, 38, who attended Malcolm X College, never shied away from work. He held a job in a hardware store in the seventh grade and managed a grocery at age 17. What got him into trouble was trying to take a shortcut to success.

"Unfortunately, like many young men coming of age in the 1980s, he was seduced, apparently, by the allure of profit in this particular illicit business," his lawyer, Jeffrey Urdangen, said.

Watts recruited a cadre of smugglers to import about $16 million in heroin from Thailand from 1990 to 1994.

His best friend was a brutal Chicago gang member who acted as an "enforcer" to deal with problems, one of Watts' co-defendants told authorities.

In 1992, at the peak of the operation, Watts opened a recording studio, TCR&R, with three musically inclined pals. He pumped more than $100,000 into the business, court records show.

TCR&R signed a rap group, Crucial Conflict, that wound up abandoning Watts and joining other companies, including a major recording label. The group hit the big-time with a top 10 single, "Hay," and gold-selling album, "The Final Tic." But TCR&R never made any money, prosecutors said.

Watts' career in show business ended in 1998 when he pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy and money-laundering, landing himself a 24-year federal prison sentence in Lexington, Ky., far from music-industry types like Paulie Richmond, a Grammy Award-winning writer who penned the hit song "Shining Star." Richmond testified as a character witness at the trial of one of Watts' co-defendants.

Though he is in prison, Watts continues to try to cash in on the success of the band he claims he founded. He filed a $9 million lawsuit to get a cut of Crucial Conflict's profits.

'It moves through me'

Another man with one foot in the music business and another in the drug world was Nathan "Nate" Hill.

Hill, 35, was arrested in 1998 after he fled to Africa to avoid prosecution for supplying the Gangster Disciples and Vice Lords gangs with more than 6,600 pounds of cocaine from 1987 to 1995.

"His famous phrase was, 'If anything moves through Chicago, it moves through me,'" said Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Coughlin, adding that Hill was a friend of reputed Gangster Disciples kingpin Larry Hoover.

Hill, who wasn't a gang member, was sentenced to life and fined $8.5 million, and forfeited cash and property valued at $5 million. He was convicted of drug conspiracy, tax fraud, money laundering, operating an ongoing criminal enterprise and ordering the killings of three enemies, two of whom were, in fact, killed.

With his drug money, Hill moved into the recording business, founding New York-based Pocketown, named after his South Side neighborhood at 78th and Stony Island. Pocketown scored a top 10 music video with "Froggy Style" by Nuttin' Nyce in 1995 and published "Wandering Eyes," which was on the soundtrack of Whoopi Goldberg's film "Sister Act 2."

He also plowed his cash into a bus company, American Tour and Travel, which offered a Heritage Tour of 20 Chicago sites of significance to black history. He even spent $700,000 in drug profits on a movie, "Reasons," which was based on his life.

A witness at Hill's trial described how he bragged about his toys: a $600,000, eight-passenger Lockheed jet; a $900,000, 73-foot yacht dubbed Magic Challenger, and five homes, including a four-bedroom A-frame on 11 acres complete with indoor pool on Boy Scout Road near Kankakee.

Hill was one of the top 15 most-wanted fugitives in America when he was nabbed in the west African country of Guinea, where he had become a coffee magnate, prosecutors said.

At Hill's 1998 sentencing, U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras called Hill a smart, charming and organized businessman.

"It is just a tragic thing that you chose to commit all of those skills and your abilities to a life of crime," Kocoras said.

Phones, CDs and haircuts

A third drug dealer who made a foray into the music world was Lawrence Nathan, now 68. The reputed Gangster Disciple was convicted in 1997 of narcotics racketeering and selling drug paraphernalia from his South Side record shop. He was sentenced to four years in prison.

Nathan's guilty plea cost him the store, Mary's Records at 361 E. 69th, plus about $97,000 in cash and money orders, a Jeep and dozens of pieces of jewelry, all of which he was forced to hand over to the government.

Music stores, currency exchanges, car washes, beauty shops and apartment buildings are among the traditional fronts drug dealers use to launder money.

Unless police count every customer walking into a barbershop, they don't know how much business the store does. A drug dealer can overstate the barbershop's business to hide his drug profits.

Dope dealers with seemingly legitimate businesses will undercut competitors' prices on phones, CDs or haircuts to keep a steady stream of customers coming through the door.

"They're a scourge on the community," police Sgt. John Lucki said.

No Cub Scouts or Boys Club

Chicago's major gangs are 40 to 50 years old. They're as much a part of some neighborhoods as churches and schools.

Sitting at a back table in Grandma Sally's Family Restaurant in affluent west suburban River Forest, Willie Lloyd sips a glass of orange juice while explaining how the Vice Lords provided a social outlet for kids growing up in his poor neighborhood in Lawndale.

Lloyd, who became the chief of the Vice Lord Nation in the 1970s, said he began his own faction, the Unknown Vice Lords, in the mid-1960s when he was about 15 years old.

"There was no Cub Scouts or Boys Club for us," said Lloyd, who has a thin scar running from his forehead to his neck, which he explains came from a box cutter in a fight when he was a teenager. "The YMCA was not really available to me. I just felt brotherhood and pride in the gang."

The Vice Lords were among the most violent street gangs in the 1960s, but they also became a nonprofit corporation and set up a neighborhood ice cream parlor called Teen Town, two Tastee-Freez franchises and the House of Lords, a hangout with pinball machines and a jukebox.

The enterprise even sent a letter on Vice Lords stationery to Mayor Richard J. Daley after the West Side riots of 1968. Conservative Vice Lords Inc. President Alfonso Alford offered to launch a beautification program with the city's help, writing, "In the past few days, we were on the street urging young people to end the burning and looting."

He never heard back from the mayor.

The budding social activism of the Vice Lords and other gangs was discarded in a brutal scramble for big money in the 1970s, Lloyd said.

Sitting next to Lloyd was a beefy man whom Lloyd introduced as a Gangster Disciples friend. The man remained stone-faced during the two-hour interview, breaking his silence once--to say grace over his spaghetti.

"With the drugs came the violence," Lloyd loudly exclaimed, sitting at Grandma Sally's, causing customers to stop eating and look over at him. "Greed became the motivating factor of these organizations. It became almost military in operation because we had to bring in weapons to guard the money, drugs and turf."

Lloyd--who claims he is now trying to stop the violence over money, drugs and turf--spent much of his life behind bars because of it.

He served 15 years in prison for his part in the killing of a state trooper in Iowa in 1970. He has been arrested more than 30 times, and survived two assassination attempts by other gang members. He was released from federal prison last year after serving an eight-year sentence on a federal gun conviction.

Though he was in prison for much of the 1980s and 1990s, his gang, the Vice Lords, dominated the city's drug sales--and murder statistics--along with the Gangster Disciples and the Latin Kings.

Gangs have become a major economic force in the city, said Steven Levitt, a University of Chicago economist. He estimated their annual profit from drugs at about $500 million, about two-thirds of 1 percent of Chicago's gross domestic product, a measure of goods and services moving through the economy.

Tom Donahue, a federal drug enforcement coordinator here, called that figure "conservative" and said the total is closer to $1 billion.

Gangs also are more violent than their colleagues in crime--the mob--ever were. In the Al Capone era of the mob, according to the 1929 Illinois Crime Survey, 215 gangsters were gunned down in four years in Chicago. Last year alone, 249 slayings were linked to gang activity, police said.

Ledgers, dues and guns

As gangs grew more corporate in the 1980s and 1990s, they stepped up their collection of dues and "street taxes," solidifying their control of neighborhood drug operations much like restaurant chains exert control over franchisees.

The Sun-Times has obtained the ledger of one street-corner "set" of the Latin Kings that shows how dues were allocated from 1996 to 1997.

The faction's leader told his foot soldiers their dues would pay for guns for the gang, the handwritten ledger says. The North Side group included 20 members who met 42 times over a year, each paying an average of $15 in dues at each meeting. Over the course of the year, they wound up giving about $12,600 to gang leaders for a gun shopping spree.

The Latin Kings operate dozens of such crews--each funneling dues to the top, said Andrew Papachristos, director of field research for the National Gang Crime Research Center. He estimated the gang collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in dues throughout the city in that one year alone.

In addition to dues, Latin King foot soldiers, whom Papachristos studied, were required to pay a "street tax" of more than half of their drug profits to higher-level gang members.

The teenage foot soldiers wound up making an average of $10 an hour. Their job description: hang out on street corners and watch for police; keep track of the money, drugs and weapons, which lay hidden in separate places, and peddle the narcotics to customers, many of whom drive in from the suburbs.

"It's mostly boring work," Papachristos said.

Foot soldiers, most of them under 18, "basically have a job at Target, but their risk is enormous," said Gregory Scott, an assistant professor of sociology at DePaul University.

Just ask Ranell Rogers, a 23-year-old member of the Mafia Insane Vice Lords. He wears a tattoo of a tombstone on his chest, a homage to his older brother Amin, killed in 1997. Like most gang members interviewed by the Sun-Times, Rogers knows of dozens of fellow gang members, friends, who have been killed.

"I graduated from a school not far from here, and there were maybe 47 boys in two eighth-grade classes. There are maybe eight of us left alive," said Rogers, who lives on the West Side. "To get by, you have to kill your conscience."

Who needs colors?

The honchos of Chicago's biggest gangs--from Gangster Disciples chairman Hoover to Latin Kings chief Gustavo "Gino" Colon--have been taken down by federal prosecutions since the mid-1990s.

As a result, the discipline and corporate hierarchies of gangs such as the Gangster Disciples are breaking down.

"Don't nobody care what you are anymore, you fake like you're best buddies, but behind closed doors you're calling the cops on the other guys," said Rogers, a Mafia Insane Vice Lords member for about 10 years.

On the streets, many young gang members no longer know the laws for their gangs--the law, for example, that they are not to use addictive drugs. They also may not know anything about their gang leaders--who may have been imprisoned for as long as the younger members have been alive.

Prison, and not the streets, is considered the "gang university" where they are expected to learn the rules and history of their organizations if they are to survive.

Gone from the streets are the outward trappings of gang membership proudly displayed in the 1980s and 1990s.

Gang members have stopped wearing gang colors to "reduce rivalry and violence, decrease pressure from law enforcement and communities, and increase profits," according to the 2002 National Drug Threat Assessment, an analysis the federal government released.

And on the streets, these young foot soldiers--who dutifully paid their dues and street taxes in the 1980s and 1990s--are now increasingly snubbing the gang leadership.

"You have pockets of GDs all by themselves," said Chicago police Sgt. Marc Moore, as he drove past a Gangster Disciple guarding one of the high-rises in the Robert Taylor Homes--where a Chicago police rookie was gunned down in 1998 during an undercover drug stakeout.

"The allegiance is not as strong to the gang as it used to be. The allegiance now is to making money."

Greed has prompted strange and uncomfortable alliances--anything to get the dope sold and the money collected. Gangs now rent out corners--and entire public housing high-rises--to rival gangs to keep the money flowing. The Gangster Disciples, for instance, "rented" an apartment building they controlled in the Robert Taylor Homes to the Mickey Cobras for $10,000 a month, police say.

The lack of a strong hierarchy in many Chicago gangs is leading to shoot-outs as young members vie for power.

"There is a struggle from above to decide who is going to claim the lower levels," Columbia University Professor Sudhir Venkatesh said. "It's as though you had all of the McDonald's franchises now removing their signs and only putting up 'Burgers for Sale.' And all of the corporate leaders of Wendy's, McDonald's and Burger King are fighting to win over the allegiance of those franchises and put their name on the signs."

Police and state prosecutors see these power struggles as weakness. And they think the time is ripe to attack gangs with a new weapon.

Tax returns--not tommy guns--brought down Al Capone.

GOING AFTER THE MONEY

Taking a lead from the feds, state prosecutors will comb through state tax returns and other financial records of suspected drug dealers in what they think could become a model for the rest of the nation.

Dealer wants out, but knows price

The day starts for K-Swiss at 2:30 p.m., when he rolls out of bed and smokes a fat "blunt," a flavored cigar wrapper stuffed with marijuana.

The 21-year-old Latin Kings gang member likes to chill for a few hours in his mother's Lake View home, fiddling with a Play Station game or watching TV. Selling dope as schoolchildren are walking home can bring a lot of heat from the cops.

By 4 p.m., it's OK to stroll outside.

K-Swiss is an all-weather guy. When it's cold, he'll pull on three pairs of socks, two shirts, two sweaters, a down ski jacket, gloves and a scarf.

No stocking cap, though. He doesn't want to mess up his hair.

"We love the snow and rain, man," said K-Swiss, whose nickname refers to the stylish gym shoes gang members in the neighborhood like to wear. "We love making money. The cops stay in their cars because they don't like getting wet and cold."

On a good day, K-Swiss pockets more than $400, tax-free. These days, there's a bustling market for the club-drug Ecstasy, but he always maintains a ready stock of marijuana, cocaine and psychedelics, too.

"From the time you wake up until the time you sleep, you're serving, 24/7. You never stop," he says with a smile that hides his dark history as a gang enforcer. "I'm in street pharmaceuticals."

Like the thousands of other members of his gang--one of the largest and oldest in Chicago--K-Swiss, back in 1995, endured a two-minute beating from Latin Kings "brothers" as part of his gang initiation.

"I was hurting bad the next day," said K-Swiss, who asked the Chicago Sun-Times not to print his name. "They told me to take a hot bath."

In seven years, K-Swiss has moved up the ranks in his 20-member "set," one of hundreds of Latin Kings neighborhood crews across the city.

In comparison to the way things are done in some blighted neighborhoods on the South and West sides, drug dealing in K-Swiss' Lake View neighborhood is not as open because residents in their $300,000 condominiums don't tolerate the same level of mayhem and disorder, K-Swiss said.

"The cops get the heat from the neighbors, then the cops start coming at us," he said. "As long as no one is complaining, [the police] could care less."

A recent afternoon drive through the neighborhood found most of the Latin Kings graffiti had been painted over and few gang members were hanging out on street corners.

"We're taking most of our orders on the cell phone now. Things are more low-key than in 'the day,'" K-Swiss said, referring to the mid-1990s.

He is chief of security, which means he controls the handgun used by the gang in the neighborhood, and he doles out physical punishment to gang brothers who break the rules.

But as he grows older, the legitimate world is tugging at K-Swiss.

He holds down a part-time job at a shopping center and aspires to join the military once he clears it with Latin Kings honchos. Heavy on his mind is the five-minute beating he might have to suffer to "lower his flag" and leave the gang.

Still, his older mentor in the Latin Kings was able to leave the gang life for the military. "I want to leave with respect like him," he said. "I'm not there yet."

K-Swiss, who dropped out of high school in his freshman year, knows that getting out of the gang could save his life. Close to two dozen friends have been killed since he joined.

Amazingly, he has never been shot or stabbed, although he has been in fight after fight. He said he barely escaped with his life last summer when a Maniac Latin Disciple fired five bullets at him during a North Side parade. And last fall, he said, another rival pressed a gun to his head near Navy Pier but decided not to pull the trigger.

"My mother prays to God every night," he said. "She tells me I am covered with the blood of Jesus Christ and he protects me. When s--- like that happens, I think about that."

K-Swiss said he also wants to get away from the daily cat-and-mouse game with police.

Some corrupt officers steal cash from drug dealers like K-Swiss, he said.

"What can you do? You don't have no receipt," he said.

Other cops resort to brutal tactics to extract confessions, he said. Once, he said, he was jailed on a gun possession charge and a detective cocked the weapon, put it to his head and said, "Where did this come from?" He said he refused to answer, and the charge was eventually dropped.

K-Swiss has dozens of disorderly conduct charges on his rap sheet, but few convictions. Police use the charge of disorderly conduct to take gang-bangers off the street, knowing the charge usually doesn't stick, he said.

He admits to shooting a rival, although he said he isn't sure whether he killed him.

The most serious trouble K-Swiss has faced involved a stash of counterfeit currency that police found in his room along with an assortment of drugs. He said his lawyer beat that case because the police did not have a search warrant.

"I got lucky," he said.

Many days, though, K-Swiss' gang job is, well, boring.

The guys hang out near a hot dog stand where they order dinner to go. He rarely eats at home with his mother.

"When things get slow, we get high or drunk," he said. "These guys want things to stay exactly the same. I like change."

K-Swiss said he is looking for more meaning in life--and fewer occupational hazards.

"It's not worth it," he said of being in the gang. "You get no f------ trophy at the end."

'Good deeds': Cops say they hide the bad  

Earnest "Smokey" Wilson refereed youth basketball tournaments at Cabrini-Green.

Willie Lloyd lectured DePaul University students about the harsh reality of gang life.

Elbert "Pierre" Mahone counseled juveniles in the Cook County detention center.

To judge by their actions, here are three middle-age men who have done some good, making Chicago a better place. But to police and prosecutors, they are strictly dirt--the leaders of three of Chicago's most notorious street gangs--who made a show of doing good deeds as a way of laundering their reputations, just like they might launder illegal cash.

"Unlike Robin Hood, their menacing influence on the community far outweighs their generosity to the community," said William O'Brien, chief of the narcotics prosecutions bureau of the Cook County state's attorney's office.

To supporters, the men are trying to step away from their lives of crime and use their positions to lure younger members away from the gangs and perform good deeds for the neighborhood.

"The police aren't gonna say the [Gangster Disciples] are sponsoring soup lines or doin' this or that," said Jamal, a 30-year-old former Mafia Insane Vice Lords member who asked that only his middle name be used. "They gonna say the GDs are terrorizing the street."

But Ranell Rogers, 23, another member of the Mafia Insane Vice Lords, calls the leaders hypocrites.

"We're going to cut the old folks' grass, cool," Rogers said before he began his shift slinging heroin and cocaine on a busy West Garfield Park corner. "But in a couple of hours, we're going to be out there selling dope. To me, it seems like that's what these guys do to ease their conscience."

Rogers, who said he has never met Wilson, Mahone or Lloyd--the reputed leader of his gang--said he decided to join when he was 10 years old after seeing how men in the top positions lived.

"At that age you aren't thinking about McDonald's and getting grease on your hand and your clothes, you don't want to come home smelling like fries,'' said Rogers, who said he once counted $1.2 million in cash that his leader earned in a single week. "You see this guy and he's got a nice car, a nice setup, probably a lovely home and a nice wife. You don't want nothin' else but what he's got.''

Smokey Wilson

Forty-nine-year-old Wilson, known as Smokey around the Cabrini-Green housing complex where the Gangster Disciples have a stronghold, climbed to the pinnacle of the GDs' leadership before being whisked off the streets on a gun charge last summer, police said.

He was one of the highest-level leaders of the Gangster Disciples when he was arrested, and was a confidant of the gang's chairman, Larry Hoover, who is serving a life sentence in federal prison, Chicago police Sgt. Marc Moore said.

"Smokey became 'The Man' because the older guys were locked up," Moore said.

When his latest arrest hit the papers, supporters rallied to his defense, saying he was known for helping youngsters in his tough Near North neighborhood.

But Wilson's long criminal career paints an uglier picture.

Back in 1970, Wilson was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to a year in prison. Three years later, he was convicted of armed robbery and locked up again. In 1975, he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. In 1981, he was convicted once again, this time for conspiracy to murder.

His latest run-in with the law happened June 18, 2001, while he was driving a maroon 2001 Lincoln Navigator near Cabrini-Green. Police said they pulled him over for a traffic violation in the 800 block of North Hudson, down the block from the Al Carter Youth Foundation. They found a 9mm Cobray semiautomatic pistol with 30 bullets in a magazine stowed under the passenger seat, police said.

Federal prosecutors hit him with weapons charges.

Wilson, who is in the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, says in court papers that the search was illegal. The police officers, who called him Smokey, never showed him a warrant, he said.

One of Wilson's attorneys, Dennis A. Giovannini, calls him a peacekeeper in Cabrini-Green and says residents are upset to see him behind bars again.

"When he was gone, all hell broke loose," Giovannini said, referring to several shoot-outs last summer, including one that left a flight attendant wounded as her airport shuttle drove past the complex.

Wilson's wife, who goes by the name Pretty, insists he is no longer a gang member, but acknowledges his past involvement.

"I'm not going to say he was a good boy. He was a bad boy. He was involved in drugs and all that. The kids of the streets have to do it to eat and survive," she said. "But when he got older, he wanted to give back to the community. He said he doesn't want the kids to grow up like him."

Pretty Wilson, who wears a gold necklace with a "Smokey" medallion, married Wilson in 1990 while he was in federal prison.

When he was released in 1998, he started working as a crisis counselor for the Al Carter Youth Foundation in the shadow of Cabrini-Green's high-rises. Smokey and Pretty invited neighborhood kids to their home in Presidential Towers, where they treated them to Popsicles, cookies and potato chips.

"He's a big kid, a teddy bear," his wife said, pointing out that she bought him a model train set for Christmas last year. "He was Uncle Smokey to the children in the area."

Wilson landed construction jobs for young people in the public housing development through a company affiliated with the youth foundation, his wife said. He arranged neighborhood cleanups and even drove young people to the polls to vote, she said.

"Our dream was to open a skating rink," Pretty Wilson said.

Alvin Carter-Bey, head of the youth foundation, said he also knows the gentler side of Wilson.

Wilson refereed basketball tournaments to keep young gang members focused on the game and not their rival affiliations, said Carter-Bey, a jazz host at WBEE-AM (1570).

"Gang guys were umpiring games," he said. "He was there to volunteer and gave me a lot of time."

The focus was never on Wilson's status as the "don" of the gang, Carter-Bey said. "He would say, 'Let's just play basketball and not get involved in anything stupid. He eliminated a lot of confusion," Carter-Bey said. "He gave me a hand to make sure things went on quietly."

And, he says, they did.

Willie Lloyd

Given that he never graduated from high school, Willie Lloyd would seem to be the last person you'd see teaching college students.

Lloyd, according to police, is head of the Vice Lords Nation, one of the oldest, largest and deadliest street gangs in Chicago.

The 51-year-old grandfather insists he is retired and is writing his memoirs to show others the false promise of gangs.

"You see that glitter, but it's not gold--it's fool's gold," he said recently, interviewed at Grandma Sally's Family Restaurant in west suburban River Forest, where waitresses say he is one of their best customers.

At a 1994 sentencing hearing in federal court, Lloyd's supporters ranged from a confidant of Hoover to a Roman Catholic priest. The Rev. George Brooks told the judge that Lloyd "expressed to me that in fact God had saved him and he had had that experience so that he could have a positive influence."

At the same hearing, Wallace "Gator" Bradley praised Lloyd for brokering a gang truce at Cabrini-Green. Bradley described himself to the judge as a reformed Gangster Disciple and a gang outreach worker for the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago. Bradley, who also called himself a representative of Hoover, ran unsuccessfully for alderman in 1994 and met with President Bill Clinton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson at the White House about crime control.

U.S. District Judge George Marovich wasn't swayed by the flowery words and sentenced Lloyd to eight years in prison, just shy of the maximum.

"I want to believe that Willie Lloyd is sincere," Marovich said. "I want to believe that there is rehabilitation potential in even the very worst of us. ... [But] Willie Lloyd once proclaimed himself king of a nation, and I ask you, what kind of kingdom is it that sends children out to kill and be killed?"

Lloyd was released from federal prison last spring. He said he agreed to lecture to incoming freshmen in DePaul University's Discover Chicago program and even took them on a field trip last fall to give them an inside look at gangs in their "natural habitat."

"I am trying to walk a straight line," Lloyd insisted. "Don't throw barriers into my path. No one knows what's going on in my head or my heart."

But Chicago police and parents of DePaul University students did throw a barrier in Lloyd's path, flooding the school with angry telephone calls when they learned the convicted felon was teaching their children.

Gregory Scott, assistant professor of sociology at DePaul, had planned to pay Lloyd to help craft questions for a federally funded study comparing the experiences of gang members and nonmembers when they leave prison.

Scott dropped Lloyd as a consultant after the backlash from parents, saying he was worried Lloyd's notoriety could affect how people responded to questions. But Scott, who previously worked for the Illinois attorney general's gang-crime prevention center, said he might still ask Lloyd to lecture and believes Lloyd's firsthand knowledge of gang life would be valuable to his project. Lloyd did receive a small payment for his work at DePaul.

Thomas Needham, former chief of staff to Chicago police Supt. Terry Hillard, said Lloyd never should have been allowed near DePaul students. He dismissed Lloyd as nothing more than a "cop killer" for his 1970 conviction in the slaying of an Iowa state trooper.

"Our narcotics investigators noticed a bus full of college students on the West Side with Willie Lloyd on a corner that our officers were surveilling in broad daylight," Needham said. "They found out this was a class of DePaul students. They couldn't believe it."

Elbert 'Pierre' Mahone

Mahone was a "rare jewel" committed to turning youngsters' lives around, Kublai Khan Muhammad Toure, Mahone's boss at Amer-I-Can Illinois, told the Sun-Times two years ago.

Mahone, 38, had worked as a "facilitator" for the organization for about two years, speaking to kids locked up at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. The county-funded program paid him more than $12,000 a year.

But then, in October 2000, the flashy high-level member of the Conservative Vice Lords--he wore full-length fur coats and drove a Rolls-Royce--was executed on the West Side in a battle over drug sales. And, all of sudden, the public wanted to know why an active gang leader had been employed by a community counseling program.

The big question: Why did Amer-I-Can's board members--including former Mayor Eugene Sawyer, state Sen. Donne Trotter and Cook County Commissioner Jerry Butler--give Mahone access to children? He had a sordid criminal record that included convictions for rape, robbery and drug dealing.

At the time, Trotter said he would not have allowed Mahone to work with youths if he had known Mahone was still actively involved in gang activities.

More than two years later, Amer-I-Can still works with kids in the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. But since October 2000, when the Sun-Times reported Mahone's involvement with the center, several changes have been made to ensure that active criminals don't come into contact with the teens.

"Background checks have been stepped up and are more extensive," said Jack Beary, spokesman for Cook County Board President John Stroger. "The individuals that participate in the program are checked to make sure their record with police is clean going back at least seven years. And staff of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center are present during the program portions when these individuals work with the population."

Mahone was part of an outreach program, according to the organization, to show the "problems, difficulties and heartbreak that [juveniles] bring to their lives when they follow the wrong role models and their consequences."

Flash and cash

For young people, the lure of the gang life is the flashy car, the thick wad of cash and the designer clothing the leaders flaunt.

Leaders dont mind showing the young guys how they got the nice car, said Rogers, the Mafia Insane Vice Lords member. Theyll say, Let me show you, you go out there and get rid of this [drug] and Ill give you a little something. Little by little, they get into it.

One 27-year-old resident of Chicagos West Garfield neighborhood, where Rogers makes between $1,500 and $2,500 a week selling drugs, said he doesnt approve of the gangs or their leaders, but can see the attraction of the easy money.

This is a poor area; a lot of the kids selling drugs are helping their parents pay some of the bills, said the man, who declined to give his name. I dont think they are giving back to the community; [leaders] might be by giving them jobs drug dealing, but its kind of a wrong way. You look at the life of many of these kids, and they dont give a damn about life, they have nothing to live for.

When a shoot-out claims another life, the gang leaders arent the ones on the street trying to quell the violence, said Reggie Murray and Melvin Taylor, outreach workers with the community organization West Garfield Ceasefire. They see nothing legitimate about gang leaders community work.

There is no positive aspect to it. I dont look at any gang activity as positive, Taylor, the groups project coordinator, said as he walked down the 1100 block of North Keystone, where boarded-up buildings sit side by side with tidy brick homes behind tall, wrought-iron fences. Just weeks earlier, a man in a car was gunned down on the block.

A resident named Wanda, 40, who met with members of the Ceasefire group as they distributed anti-gang literature, called the drug dealers terrorists. Two years ago, her 19-year-old son Dwayne was shot dead by drug dealers, and the year before Dwaynes twin brother Dwight was shot in the face.

The leaders are putting the young ones lives on the line, said Wanda, who declined to give her last name because she fears the gangs. I wonder if the young guys have any sense.

Chasing dirty money

April 8, 2002

Cops call it velocity. The rapid-fire exchange of dollar bills for dime bags. Cash flowing from a drug deal into a bank account under an assumed name.

Money being pulled from the account to buy luxury cars, designer clothing and more dope.

The high-speed spin cycle that makes dirty money clean.

"The faster you can spend the money to buy the dope, the faster you sell the dope, and the more money you make," said William O'Brien, the assistant Cook County state's attorney in charge of the office's Narcotics Prosecution Bureau. "One way to stop the velocity is to throw a wrench into the money aspect of it. Once it gets deposited and the bulk cash is turned into a blip on the computer screen, we can't do anything about it."

Police and prosecutors have always known Chicago street gangs launder their drug profits through seemingly legitimate businesses such as currency exchanges, cellular phone shops and beauty salons.

Until now, federal agents typically have investigated money-laundering. Local authorities said they did not have the expertise and manpower to concentrate on such time-consuming cases.

This year, however, money-laundering is at the heart of Cook County prosecutors' strategy for breaking up Chicago's drug operations, which they believe have already been splintered with the imprisonment of top gang leaders.

Millions of dollars are at stake, according to Ranell Rogers, 23, a member of the Mafia Insane Vice Lords.

"I make between $1,000 and $2,000 a week. It's my keep. I worked for a guy, and I counted his money one time and for a week, counted $1.2 million sitting on my table. But it was his money. I wanted to get my gym bag and run. But he knows where my house is. That was his take."

Cook County's initiative could become a model for the rest of the nation, backed with the clout of U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

"It's a 180-degree turn," O'Brien said. "Everyone has always been following the powder, following the dope. Now we are going to follow the money."

In February, police and prosecutors opened three cases using the new approach.

Police and prosecutors will approach the Illinois Gaming Board to develop intelligence about drug dealers who launder their cash at riverboat casinos.

They will work with the Illinois Department of Revenue to obtain tax returns of drug kingpins and their associates.

They will go after cars and houses that drug dealers place in the names of their families and friends to throw off investigators.

They will try to bust car salesmen who sell luxury vehicles to drug traffickers in return for cash they know is dirty.

And for the first time, they will launch money-laundering cases against low-level "mules," the men and women who transport cash across state lines, with the hope of learning more about their drug bosses.

The strategy is alarming to one prominent defense lawyer who says it will ensnare innocent people who aren't directly involved in illegal activity.

"It's not going to work," said R. Eugene Pincham, a former state appellate judge and a civil rights attorney. "You can't expect car dealers to police the drug business. You are not going to get rid of drug trafficking by confiscating people's cars and property."

Pincham, who equates the war on drugs to the government's failure to eradicate illegal liquor sales during Prohibition in the 1920s, expects prosecutors will run into constitutional problems when defense attorneys challenge their expanded use of the state's money-laundering statute.

But O'Brien, who is running for judge, said prosecutors need to become more innovative in their fight against drug dealers, whose methods of hiding money have become ever more creative.

Cashing in

The jangling world of casinos--from the riverboats that ring Chicago to the luxury palaces of Las Vegas and Atlantic City--is one of the favorite places for drug dealers to launder their cash.

A few undercover cases have demonstrated to police and prosecutors that casinos are a rich resource for money-laundering.

One of those cases came to light in 1997. Police were tailing one dealer when he led them to Las Vegas.

On one trip, the Chicago drug distributor sidled up to a cashier's window at a busy casino with $103,000 in money orders. Money orders are easier to transport than stacks of bills.

Like other big-time drug dealers, he was fully aware of federal money-laundering laws, police say. He kept the money orders at less than $3,000 each because the currency exchanges where he bought them were required to report any sales of higher amounts to the federal government. Breaking down large cash deposits or exchanges into smaller amounts is a common money-laundering technique called "smurfing.''

He slid the inch-thick bundle to the cashier and walked away with colorful stacks of gambling chips, many of them black, the $100 denomination.

At that point, the piles of cash he earned from drug sales on Chicago streets had already been laundered twice: once through currency exchanges and next through the casino.

The chips were a form of untraceable currency that he could carry to his hotel room, where he hooked up with his Texas cocaine supplier.

The Chicago dealer, whom police won't identify because the investigation continues, gave $91,000 in chips to the Texan for a future delivery of coke and cashed the remaining $12,000 in chips for himself.

Both men could claim they won their cash at the craps and blackjack tables.

The drugs were later delivered and made their way to five cities, including a street gang in Chicago, police say. Over six months, the Chicago man laundered more than $2 million in Las Vegas at three casinos that police won't identify.

"They try to conceal it as a gambling junket rather than a drug junket," said Chicago police Sgt. John Lucki, a member of the department's Financial Crimes Unit created last year in the anti-money-laundering effort. "They don't have to meet in an alley and exchange drugs there. It's less risky."

Echoes of Secret Six

Such schemes were the topic of a closed-door meeting on the fourth floor of a downtown office building last spring that harkened back to the "Secret Six," the Citizens Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of Crime, which met covertly in a Loop office to draw up a battle plan against Al Capone more than 70 years ago.

At the March meeting was House Speaker Hastert, who gave police and prosecutors a mandate: Focus on money.

Chicago police Supt. Terry Hillard and his top aides, along with O'Brien and other prosecutors, were invited to the meeting by Tom Donahue, head of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federally funded agency that works with 38 Chicago area law enforcement groups to help them combat drug trafficking.

Speaking from his Capitol Hill office, Hastert said he remained concerned that heroin continues to flood Chicago's streets. To cut the pipeline, he pledged more money for the crackdown on money laundering.

The drug trafficking office is asking for about $15 million in federal funding this fiscal year--triple what it got in last year's budget, Donahue said.

"We have learned a lot about money-laundering because of terrorism," Hastert said. "Terrorists are using grocery coupons to launder their cash for their programs. We lost more than 2,000 people in New York City, but we lose 20,000 people a year because of drugs and drug violence. Nobody would grow this stuff or smuggle it or hawk it on the street corners if they couldn't get the money into the pockets of the drug lords. Nobody talks about money-laundering, but it is the key."

Hastert said he thinks more hasn't been done to close the money pipeline because of resistance from bankers.

"Nobody wanted to step on anybody's toes or get bankers in trouble, but that is the crux," he said.

Although state prosecutors have not brought charges in any money-laundering cases since that March 2001 meeting, Hastert said he is satisfied with the steps they are taking. On Jan. 23, prosecutors hashed out their plans with the Chicago police at the department's Organized Crime Division in Homan Square--a sprawling, red-brick former Sears distribution center where confiscated money and drugs are stored, and where narcotics and gang investigators work in a labyrinth of offices.

The Republican from far west suburban Yorkville said he hopes federal authorities, including new U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, will step up their efforts, too.

"It's something the feds could do a better job of," he said.

Heroin capital

From their low-key afternoon meeting, O'Brien and others began drawing up a blueprint to go after gang money. They have secured a $300,000, 18-month federal "seed" grant to hire an assistant state's attorney to handle money-laundering cases, an investigator and a part-time auditor.

One of their aims is to slow the brisk sales in open markets, in particular of South American heroin, which now dominates the West Side. Suburban teens are creeping down the side streets near Garfield Park in Chevy Suburbans and their mothers' Volvos, unarmed, stopping to roll down their windows and hand a stranger $40 or $50 in exchange for a plastic baggie of heroin.

The quick-fire deals are completed in minutes, and the teens are back on the Eisenhower Expy., returning to their families' large homes in DuPage County. Some of these junkies are A and B students; some are enrolled in colleges. To feed their habits, they take their chances, sometimes even walking at 1 or 2 a.m. through darkened neighborhoods where most of the city's homicides are tallied.

Few of them die of violence in these drug buys--gangs forbid members from hurting or robbing their customers. But many wind up in the hospital. More heroin users visited Chicago area emergency rooms in 2000 than in New York and other major cities, and heroin-related deaths here rose from 224 in 1996 to 457 in 1999, according to the latest available statistics from the federal government. Experts say the problem is worsening.

"Chicago is the heroin capital of the United States," Donahue said. "We have not been successful at all when it comes to domestic money-laundering. My goal is to determine where the money goes when it leaves the street."

Both Republican Joe Birkett and Democrat Lisa Madigan, who are running for state attorney general, plan to target money laundering by gang members, according to both campaigns.

It was government bean counters--not federal agents armed with machineguns--who took down Capone in 1931. The legendary mob boss made his fortune supplying bootleg liquor during Prohibition.

Since then, big financial cases involving gangsters have typically been handled by the feds, and not local prosecutors.

About two years ago, Congress changed the law to make it easier for federal authorities to seize suspected drug money. Now they simply must prove the money was tied to criminal activity, when in the past they were required to establish a money-laundering scheme, FBI spokesman Frank Bochte said.

Other changes, however, were designed to protect innocent people from government seizures, Bochte said. Strict timetables were set up for the government to notify people of seizures and to file forfeiture lawsuits, he said.

"We can't hold on to property for years," Bochte said. "It keeps everybody honest."

State prosecutors long have used forfeiture laws to take away property and money linked to the drug trade, but they rarely have used the state's money-laundering statute to launch criminal cases, O'Brien said.

One of the reasons: They were not often given access to key state tax forms because the Illinois Department of Revenue considered their requests a "fishing expedition," O'Brien said. His office is trying to forge a stronger relationship with revenue officials, he said.

By building a tax case against a suspected gang member at the same time they launch a drug investigation, prosecutors can get a judge to approve wiretapping, search warrants and access to state tax forms simultaneously, O'Brien said.

"When you broaden narcotics investigations to look at the financial aspect of it, you now uncover a slew of information, potential witnesses and potential informants on the dope end, as well as on the money end," he said.

Among the targets are drug dealers' family members who hide money for them so it doesn't show up on cops' radar screens.

A safe deposit key

One such case was exposed in the 1980s when police arrested a drug dealer with several kilos of cocaine, said Lucki, the Chicago police sergeant.

Along with the drugs, police found a key to a safe deposit box. They eventually tracked down the box, but not before the man's elderly mother got to the stash of money first.

When police showed up at her home, they caught her throwing thousands of dollars in cash out of a first-floor window of the apartment she shared with her son.

She eventually admitted to police that the money belonged to him. But she insisted it was being used in a noble way.

"It turns out she had two sons, one that was arrested with the kilos of cocaine and another who was going to medical school," Lucki said. "The one son was paying for the other's education. The mother knew she needed the money for tuition."

Other targets are businesses that take in drug money, allowing gang-connected owners to claim that the cash came from customers' purchases.

Several examples emerged in the federal prosecution of the Gangster Disciples in the 1990s.

Police officer Sonia Irwin was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison in 1997 after prosecutors showed that a high-ranking gang member used drug money to buy a seafood restaurant, June's Shrimp on the 9, in Irwin's name.

In addition to investing drug profits in the restaurant, the gang leader, Gregory Shell, used the restaurant to collect "street taxes" from lower-level drug dealers and held gang meetings there.

The investigation led to a life sentence against Larry Hoover, chairman of the Gangster Disciples. Other gang leaders, including Gustavo "Gino" Colon of the Latin Kings, have been imprisoned in recent years, causing internal turmoil in those gangs and others.

"I think we have become a victim of our own success," said Harvey Radney, deputy superintendent of the Chicago Police Department's Bureau of Investigative Services.

Once the gang hierarchy is damaged, lower-level gang members jockey for leadership positions, Radney said. They are willing to take more chances to carve out business, leading to more outbreaks of violence.

But the breakdown of gang leadership can work in prosecutors' favor as they launch their new initiative, O'Brien said.

"This is an informant-rich business. The one thing we have as a tool and advantage over them is we can use paranoia," he said. "They employ very weak people. To save their own throats--or their families--people are willing to turn in other people."

Flaunting wealth on the street is a must

BY CARLOS SADOVI AND FRANK MAIN STAFF REPORTERS

At the time Elbert "Pierre" Mahone was gunned down last year, the leader of one of the city's most notorious street gangs drove a Rolls-Royce, wore full-length fur coats and had built up a reputation as a Robin Hood for spreading money around his impoverished Lawndale community.

While it would seem people living on the wrong side of the law would want to draw as little attention to themselves as possible, many gang members are attracted to the designer clothing, luxury autos, large glitzy jewelry and other "flash'' paid for by their illicit activities.

In their world, a person's "rep'' for being a ruthless and savvy businessman can protect him.

 

"My notoriety do demand a certain amount of respect in the community. I can walk around and I'm going to be respected because of my past experience and my involvement in the gangs,'' said Willie Lloyd, who claims he is a retired gang leader. "There is a notoriety about Willie Lloyd.''

When Lloyd left Logan Correctional Center in 1992 after serving time for a gun conviction, he wore a black-and-white leather outfit under a mink coat.

His subordinates--who themselves were dressed in leather, fur, gold, diamonds with alligator shoes--picked him up from the jail in five limousines.

Wearing the latest styles, driving the flashiest must-have vehicles and using their cash to parlay good faith in the neighborhoods can add to the gangs' allure on the street.

For future gang members, it's seen as a lucrative alternative to working a minimum-wage job flipping burgers.

"Once the money starts comin' in, you got to figure out what to do with it,'' said Ranell Rogers, a 23-year-old Mafia Insane Vice Lords gang member. "Nine times outta 10, it might be a young guy who doesn't know what to do with it. It might go to drugs, women, guns, cars. Those are necessary; everybody wants 'em. If you don't have 'em, you ain't cool.''

The most obvious gang status symbol is the right car.

Gang members, especially mid-level gang members who are in charge of a local crew of "slingers'' who actually sell the drugs, will sometimes own a small fleet of vehicles that they have put in the names of family members and friends to keep officials from establishing a paper trail against them.

The "must-have'' cars these days are the fully decked out Cadillac Escalade SUV truck, which runs more than $45,000; the GMC Envoy SUV, which averages $30,000, and Jaguars, which run about $46,000. The colors of choice are black or white.

"They are trend-setters, they'll always go with the biggest trend,'' Chicago police Sgt. John Lucki said.

When Satan Disciples gang member Santos Garcia was arrested in 1998, police recovered $44,644 in cash, thousands of dollars in jewelry and several vehicles, including a Lincoln Continental, a Chrysler Intrepid, a Ford Mustang, a Lincoln Navigator SUV--and two Chevy Astro vans used to cart dope from the Mexican border.

Garcia was sentenced to 15 years in prison in March after being convicted of drug dealing, but fled before he saw a day in prison. Two men who worked with him pleaded guilty in December to drug charges and received three years probation, Cook County State's Attorney Anthony Kyriakopoulos said.

While Garcia, a 28-year-old native of Mexico, allegedly held down a $19,000-a-year job as a machine operator, he owned a $71,644 28-foot power boat and a Jet Ski worth $10,000. He also owned a $200,000 five-bedroom home in Marquette Park, which prosecutors are trying to seize because they say it was bought with his drug profits.

Like any good business person, a gang leader often showers underlings with gifts and clothing as a way to keep employees in their good graces and to keep them from "flipping'' to a rival gang, Lucki said.

"You'll hear how the guy who is supplying them will throw a picnic for them or buy them all gym shoes or different types of uniforms, whether it's current trendy jackets or hats, pants or clothes,'' Lucki said. "Essentially he becomes an employer for the community.''

Along with the cars, gang members seek out "hip-hop'' designer clothing such as Pelle Pelle, which has leather jackets selling for $500 and velour warmup suits going for $200; FUBU clothing, especially a $135 denim jacket called the "Gang In Boxes Jacket." And anything with the name Sean Jean, a line launched by rap star Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, is also hot among gang members, Chicago police Sgt. Marc Moore said.

"You see 19-year-olds driving down the street in a 2001 Cadillac Escalade, and when you ask them who it belongs to, they'll say my aunt, my cousin, my--'' Moore said.

"One guy said he was driving his mama's car, and he had about $10,000 in speakers in the back. I said your mama must be really deaf.''

The gangs have bought into the pop culture--especially the black gangs, who see their enterprise more as a business than do the Latin gangs, which usually set up family members in their gang, said Andrew Papachristos, director of field research for the National Gang Crime Research Center.

"They employ the business jargon, 'The Godfather' mentality that they see in pop culture,'' said Papachristos. "The day you can identify a gang member by a baseball hat is pretty much over because people are getting smarter, and it's a business."

What Authorities Seized Last Year

COOK COUNTY: $14.8 million, including $11.8 million in cash and 582 vehicles valued at $3.04 million, constituting 5,776 forfeiture cases initiated.

U.S. GOVERNMENT: $19,589,139 (total deposits to U.S. asset forfeiture fund for Illinois, including Northern District of Illinois, which comprises most of the cases).

SOURCES: Cook County state's attorney's office, U.S. Justice Dept

 

 

Department on lookout for Cops in gang

Talk to a gang member, and he'll tell you about cops who have ripped him off.

Cops who sell drugs.

Even cops who are gang members themselves.

Enough money-hungry police officers have fallen into the orbit of gangs they're supposed to bust that such claims often ring true.

Take the Austin 7, seven officers arrested in 1996 for engaging in robbery and extortion. One of them was a high-level gang member.

Or the Shakespeare police district on the Northwest Side, where more than 20 officers were once under investigation for links to gangs, according to a 1995 Chicago Sun-Times series.

Lately, the Chicago Police Department has become more vigilant in weeding out potential gang members before they are issued a gun or a badge, said David Bayless, a department spokesman. Potential officers must undergo background checks, drug testing, psychological evaluations and written exams. They must have two years of college credits or military experience to qualify.

Two young police recruits were booted from the 722-member Class of 2000 when evidence mounted of their ties to street gangs, Bayless said.

A female recruit was fired for interfering with the arrest of her niece. A male recruit was fired after he overdosed on drugs in Mexico.

"The reason they were fired was because of what we learned in the past about what can happen when our officers become involved in criminal activity," Bayless said, calling the outlaws a "few bad apples."

Over the last decade, a handful of Chicago police officers have been unmasked as gang members in high-profile federal investigations.

In the Austin 7 case, Edward Lee Jackson Jr. was identified as a ranking member of the Conservative Vice Lords, a position he held even when he patrolled the Austin police district on the West Side, authorities said. Jackson, known as "Pacman," received a 115-year sentence in October.

"They had no credibility," Joseph M. Alesia, deputy supervisor of the gang crime unit in the Cook County state's attorney's office, said of Jackson and the six other officers arrested in the probe. "It caused us to dismiss a lot of cases that on their face looked like good cases to prosecute because of the officers involved."

Jackson had become a member of the gang in his teens. His father was a founder of the gang, one of the largest and oldest in Chicago, prosecutors said.

The Shakespeare District was a source of embarrassment for the department, too. One Shakespeare officer, Tommy Marquez, admitted he was a member of the Latin Counts street gang in his youth, but insisted he was not in the gang as a cop. He pleaded guilty to extortion in 1995.

Another officer, Sonia Irwin, was convicted in 1996 of aiding and abetting the Gangster Disciples street gang. She was a Chicago police officer while she dated Gangster Disciples Chairman Larry Hoover's right-hand-man, Gregory "Shorty G" Shell, renting cars for him and driving him to a Downstate prison to meet with Hoover.

"They used her charge card to rent motel rooms and cars," said Bernie Murray, chief of the felony division for the Cook County state's attorney's office, who prosecuted Hoover.

Irwin owned a South Side restaurant, June's Shrimp on the 9, where the Gangster Disciples made drug deals, prosecutors said.

Bayless said he knows of no officers fired during police Supt. Terry Hillard's four-year tenure for having gang affiliations. But several officers in recent years have been charged with crimes that prosecutors suspect were tied to gangs.

Officer Pedro Mataterrazas II was working for a drug-dealing friend before he entered the police academy in 1998 and made at least 10 trips to Nashville in cocaine-loaded cars after he took the oath to serve and protect, prosecutors said. He pleaded guilty in October 2000 to drug charges and was sentenced to 72 months in a federal boot camp.

One of the most infamous cases involved former gang crimes officer Joseph Miedzianowski and his partner John Galligan, who were convicted last year of overseeing a Miami-to-Chicago drug ring in a conspiracy with Chicago gang members. Both await sentencing.

Miedzianowski was accused of harboring a killer from the Latin Lovers street gang, Nelson "Baby Face" Padilla, after he shot and killed a rival gang member, Roberto Detres, in 1995. The dirty cop brought Padilla a copy of the police file on the investigation, and let him read it and learn the names of witnesses, authorities said. Padilla eventually was convicted of the crime and pleaded guilty to participating in Miedzianowski's drug operation. He was sentenced to 35 years in state prison and awaits federal sentencing.

At least three other officers, whose badges were stripped in 1999, also are under investigation in the Miedzianowski case, sources say. They remain in the department on desk duty. The scandal prompted Hillard to break up the department's gang unit two years ago and reassign its officers.

One Northwest Side plainclothes police officer said his philosophy when dealing with gangs is "live and let live," that is, until someone is killed or wounded. The officer, who did not want his name used, said that in return for his hands-off approach, he expects information in return. He said he carries a starter pistol used in sports events to force reluctant gang members to give up information about crimes.

Gang members have told the Sun-Times that officers with gang affiliations continue to work for the department and protect drug dealers' fiefdoms.

One gang member, who identified himself as "K-Swiss," said he knows of two fellow Latin Kings who have become officers and work in the Uptown neighborhood. But the 21-year-old said he did not have any evidence that the officers engage in illegal activity now.

K-Swiss said he has endured many beatings at the hands of the police and that an officer once pointed a loaded gun at his head to get him to confess to a weapons charge.

"Of course, sometimes on the street they will take our money," said K-Swiss. "The cops say, 'Gang-banger, you got a receipt for that?"

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