U.S. Attorney’s Office Announces Progress and Ongoing Strategies in Combating Violent Crime in Chicago
Number of Federal Firearm Defendants Increased for Third Consecutive Year
CHICAGO — John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, today announced continued progress in combating violent crime through a series of targeted strategies as part of the revitalized Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) initiative.
PSN is an evidence-based program that serves as the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction strategy. In the Northern District of Illinois, U.S. Attorney Lausch has deployed the PSN program to attack a broad range of violent crime issues facing the district, from complex racketeering and drug trafficking enterprises to the illegal use, possession, or transfer of firearms. PSN resources are also invested in local prevention and reentry programs that seek to implement lasting reductions in crime through community engagement.
“In the past three years our office in Chicago has substantially increased prosecutions of violent criminals, including trigger-pullers, drug traffickers, carjackers, and those who illegally use and possess firearms,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch. “We are using every available federal law enforcement tool to reduce violent crime and help keep our citizens safe.”
“The revitalized Project Safe Neighborhoods program is a major success,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “It packs a powerful punch by combining advanced data with local leadership, further reducing violence in communities across the country and improving overall public safety. U.S. Attorneys continue to focus their enforcement efforts against the most violent criminals and work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal police. The Justice Department’s relationships across the board have never been stronger.”
The revitalized PSN program has enabled the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago to sustain and expand upon significant increases in the prosecution of gun offenders. According to preliminary data for the 2019 Fiscal Year, which ended Sept. 30, 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged more federal firearm defendants than were charged in each of the prior 15 years. The number of charged firearm defendants in Fiscal Year 2019 was 44% higher than 2018, and 60% higher than 2017, according to preliminary data. These increases are particularly impactful considering that the 2018 and 2017 fiscal years previously stood as the first and second highest years of charged firearm defendants, respectively, in more than a decade.
Crime statistics from the Chicago Police Department (CPD) reveal significant reductions in violent crime in Chicago this year. In the first nine months of 2019, CPD reported a 9% decline in overall crime citywide, driven by double-digit reductions in murders, shootings, robberies and motor vehicle thefts compared to the same period last year.
Over the past two years, the Department of Justice has substantially increased the number of federal prosecutors nationwide to fight violent crime. The Northern District of Illinois received 12 new criminal Assistant U.S. Attorney positions – announced in January, June and October of last year – and U.S. Attorney Lausch has put them to use. Significantly, the U.S. Attorney’s Office created a Gun Crimes Prosecution Team to enhance the prosecution of illegal firearm cases in certain police districts in Chicago. Working collaboratively with federal and local law enforcement, the Gun Crimes Prosecution Team focuses on charging Chicago’s most dangerous criminals quickly after arrest, endeavoring to disrupt the cycle of violence in the neighborhoods most in need. “Our Gun Crimes Prosecution Team has had tremendous success investigating and prosecuting firearms cases from those Chicago neighborhoods suffering from the most violent crime,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch. “Our partnerships with CPD and other state and local law enforcement have never been better.”
Firearm and violent crime investigations in Chicago have also been bolstered by an important tool from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF): the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN). NIBIN is the only national network that allows for the capture and comparison of ballistic evidence to aid in solving and preventing violent crimes involving firearms. NIBIN is a proven investigative and intelligence tool that can link firearms from multiple crime scenes, allowing law enforcement to quickly disrupt shooting cycles. Federal, state and local law enforcement in Chicago have used NIBIN extensively to help solve violent crimes and prosecute trigger-pullers and other gun offenders.
Through enforcement actions, prosecutions, and community partnerships, the U.S. Attorney’s Office works to reduce violent crime and make neighborhoods safer.
Enforcement Actions and Prosecution Activity
The U.S. Attorney’s Office works closely with U.S. law enforcement agencies, including ATF, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) to investigate and prosecute a variety of violent crimes. State and local partners in this effort include CPD, Illinois State Police (ISP), Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, and numerous local departments throughout northern Illinois.
Following up on the activities our office reported in November of last year and May of this year, our office remains active in fighting violent crime and working to keep safe the people of Chicago through various enforcement actions, prosecutions, and sentencings, as illustrated below:
- “Combating the unacceptable level of gang violence in Chicago has been a top priority in our office and will continue to be so,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.
- ANTHONY MORGAN was sentenced in August to four years in prison for serving as a source of firearms for a Black P-Stones gang faction. Morgan had firearms purchased in New Mexico and shipped to Chicago for distribution to the gang. Using NIBIN, law enforcement tied two of the firearms to homicides, including the murder of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee. ATF and CPD led the probe, with assistance from USPIS and the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General.
- Five members of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang pleaded guilty in August or September to a racketeering conspiracy charge and admitted participating in criminal activities on behalf of the gang. KEITH CHATMAN, MARCHELLO DEVINE, DEANDRE SPANN and RONTRELL TURNIPSEED will be sentenced later this year, while STEVON SIMS was sentenced earlier this month. Several other alleged members of the gang pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. The federal probe was led by FBI, ATF and CPD, with assistance from the Illinois Secretary of State Police Department, U.S. Bureau of Prisons, IDOC, and ISP.
- RAYMOND BETTS, an alleged high-level member of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang, and two other suspected members of the gang were arrested in May on drug charges. Betts allegedly led an enforcement or security faction of the Four Corner Hustlers known as the “Body Snatchers.” The multi-year investigation was led by ATF, DEA, CPD and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, with support of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (HIDTA).
- Racketeering and murder charges were unsealed in May against four alleged members of a Chicago street gang known as the Milwaukee Kings. The charges allege that each of the defendants committed murder, while one of them also committed two attempted murders. The charges are punishable by a mandatory sentence of life in prison, and the death penalty is also possible. The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges. They remain detained in federal custody pending a trial date in 2021. The U.S. Attorney’s Office worked closely in the investigation with FBI and CPD.
- Two alleged members of the Evans Mob street gang were charged in April with committing murder in aid of racketeering, a charge punishable by a mandatory sentence of life in prison and a possible penalty of death. The indictment describes the Evans Mob as a criminal organization whose members and associates engaged in numerous acts of violence, including murder, attempted murder and assault, to acquire and preserve territory on Chicago’s South Side. The defendants have pleaded not guilty and remain detained in federal custody. The case was investigated by ATF and CPD.
Firearm Trafficking and Firearm Theft Prosecutions
- “Straw purchasers and firearms traffickers enable unlawful possession of guns and the violence that may follow,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold accountable those who engage in illicit firearm transactions.”
- Earlier this month, a Missouri resident pleaded guilty to his role in a Missouri-to-Chicago firearms pipeline. MARCUS INGRAM, of Charleston, Mo., admitted in a plea agreement that he transported five guns from Missouri to Illinois, where co-defendant JAMES SAUNDERS, of Chicago, illegally distributed them for a profit. Saunders also pleaded guilty in the case, as did JUMONTA MOORE, of Sikeston, Mo. The three are awaiting sentencing. A fourth defendant, DERRICK CLAIBORNE, pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. The probe was led by ATF and CPD.
- Earlier this month, two Chicago men were each sentenced to nine years in prison for stealing 366 handguns from a shipping yard in Memphis, Tenn., and transporting them in a U-Haul van to the Chicago area. Law enforcement safely recovered all of the firearms. The case was prosecuted in the Western District of Tennessee after an investigation by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in Chicago and Memphis, ATF and FBI, and the police departments of Memphis, Tenn., and Midlothian, Ill.
- Last month, two men were charged with conspiring to straw purchase 19 handguns in Wisconsin and re-sell or distribute them in Chicago. The Wisconsin purchases occurred at retail stores, pawn shops and gun shows. KIRK VALENTINE of La Crosse, Wisc., and FRANCISCO ROCHA, of Chicago, pleaded not guilty to the charges. FBI and CPD led the investigation, which included use of NIBIN.
- Last month, two Minneapolis residents were charged in the District of Minnesota for their roles in illegally supplying a firearm that was used in shootings in Minneapolis and Chicago, including the shooting of a CPD officer. The investigation was conducted by ATF, CPD, and the Minneapolis Police Department, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago. The case was made possible by investigative leads generated from NIBIN.
- An eleven-year prison sentence was handed down in May for a suburban Chicago man who described himself as a “one stop shop” for firearms. ANTOINE JACKSON sold an AK-47 rifle, two handguns, ammunition and heroin to an individual who, unbeknownst to Jackson, was an informant working on behalf of law enforcement. ATF conducted the probe, with assistance from CPD and police departments in Matteson and Tinley Park, as well as the Will County Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad.
- A federal jury in April convicted OMRAN ISMAIL of conspiring to straw purchase several handguns on behalf of another individual. Ismail faces up to ten years in prison when he is sentenced on Dec. 3, 2019. HSI, CPD, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection participated in the probe.
- “Our message to would-be carjackers in Chicago is simple: Committing a senseless act of violence like carjacking could earn you a home in federal prison for a long time,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.
- A trial date of April 6, 2020, has been set for four defendants charged in connection with a vehicle theft at gunpoint in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. Three of the defendants were charged with using, carrying and brandishing a firearm in connection with a violent crime - an offense punishable by up to life in prison. The defendants have pleaded not guilty. The probe was led by FBI and CPD, with assistance from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
- In August, two men who carjacked a sport-utility vehicle at gunpoint on Chicago’s Near North Side were each sentenced to eleven years in federal prison. During the carjacking, the Jeep’s owner was struck on the back of the head with a gun, while a second gun was pointed at the heads of both the owner and a passenger. The case was investigated by the Chicago 11th District Violent Crimes Task Force, which consists of agents and officers from the FBI, CPD, ATF, DEA and HSI.
- BRIAN MCKENZIE, of Chicago, remains detained in federal custody for allegedly using a handgun to carjack a Dodge Charger in a restaurant parking lot in suburban Orland Park. He pleaded not guilty to charges brought earlier this year. The case was investigated by ATF and the police departments of Orland Park and Oak Forest.
- Three defendants remain detained in federal custody while awaiting trial on a carjacking indictment returned earlier this year. The charges allege that the trio violently took a Land Rover from a driver in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. They have pleaded not guilty. The case was investigated by CPD, ATF, FBI, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, and ISP.
- KASHIF DUKES was charged earlier this year with carjacking a Mercedes-Benz in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Dukes allegedly displayed a firearm and threatened the driver before taking the car. Dukes pleaded not guilty and remains detained in federal custody awaiting trial. ATF, FBI and CPD led the probe.
Illegal Possession of Firearms Prosecutions
According to preliminary data, 284 individuals were charged with federal gun crimes in the Northern District of Illinois in Fiscal Year 2019 – a 44% increase over the number of firearm defendants charged in FY18, and a 60% increase over FY17.
“Our goal as prosecutors is not simply to bring more cases against more defendants, but rather to reduce the number of homicides and shootings in the Northern District of Illinois, and the way to do that is by bringing quality, impactful cases,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch. “If you are a felon and thinking about picking up a gun in Chicago, you should expect to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and face the possibility of going to federal prison for a long time.”
Examples of illegal gun possession cases in federal court during FY19 include:
- Earlier this month, ANTWON BURTON was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison for illegally possessing a loaded handgun in Chicago. Burton had previously been convicted of multiple felonies, including firearm offenses, and was on parole at the time of this offense. Federal law prohibits felons from possessing guns. The case was investigated by CPD and ATF.
- A federal grand jury in August indicted a convicted felon for allegedly illegally possessing more than 50 shotguns, rifles and handguns in his Chicago home. HENRY REYES was previously convicted of murder and was not lawfully allowed to possess a firearm, the charges allege. Reyes pleaded not guilty to the charges and is awaiting trial. ATF and CPD conducted the investigation.
- A convicted felon was charged in federal court in August with illegally possessing a semi-automatic rifle at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. Law enforcement officers saw BERNARD HARVEY, of Indianapolis, Ind., in the clinic area of the VA and ordered him to drop the rifle, which he did. The officers then ordered Harvey to the ground and placed him under arrest. FBI, CPD and the Jesse Brown VA Police Department conducted the probe.
- JORDAN WATKINS, of Chicago, was sentenced in July to more than six years in prison for illegally possessing a loaded rifle on an elevated train platform in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Watkins, who at the time was on parole for a felony conviction, was also carrying a messenger bag that contained two 30-round magazines. FBI and CPD led the investigation, with assistance from IDOC.
- A federal grand jury in July charged GASTON TUCKER, of Chicago, with illegally possessing a loaded handgun in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago. Tucker was previously convicted of aggravated battery with a firearm, a felony for which he was on parole at the time of the alleged federal offense. Tucker pleaded not guilty to the federal charge and is awaiting trial. FBI and CPD investigated the case.
- ANTHONY DRAYTON was sentenced in June to seven years in prison for illegally possessing a loaded semi-automatic handgun and pointing it at a car full of people, including a 4-year-old child, outside a Chicago convenience store. CPD officers were called to the area and quickly arrested Drayton. ATF assisted in the probe.
Other Significant Firearm-Related Prosecutions
- Three Chicago men were charged in August with participating in a murder-for-hire conspiracy that resulted in two fatal shootings in Chicago. The defendants allegedly believed one of the victims was cooperating with law enforcement in a drug investigation. Law enforcement recovered the gun believed to have been used in the murders after it was discovered on a Minnesota resident who was arrested in Wisconsin. ATF, CPD, IRS-CI, DEA, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, FBI, HIDTA and OCDETF participated in the investigation.
- A jury in June convicted ERNESTO GODINEZ on firearm and assault charges for shooting an ATF agent who was conducting a covert law enforcement activity in Chicago. The agent was wounded but survived, and he testified at trial. Godinez, of Chicago, will be sentenced later this year. The assault charge is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, while the firearm charge is punishable by a minimum sentence of ten years in prison and must be served after any term of imprisonment imposed for the assault. The case was worked by ATF, CPD, USMS, FBI, HSI, DEA and ISP.
Opioids are a class of highly addictive drugs that includes heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. The safety of Americans is being threatened by unprecedented levels of opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose. The Department of Justice is committed to using every available tool to enforce federal drug laws and combat the opioid epidemic. In the Northern District of Illinois, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has deployed a strategy of aggressive investigations and prosecutions of those who are most responsible for this epidemic. This includes prosecuting the leaders of traditional drug trafficking organizations, as well as rogue healthcare providers, pharmacists, pharmacist technicians, and others who contribute to the supply and overuse of opioids.
“This is the deadliest drug crisis in American history,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch. “We are actively attacking the opioid crisis from all investigative and prosecutorial angles.”
Examples of recent opioid prosecutions in Chicago include:
- Sales of heroin and fentanyl were the target of a joint federal and state investigation, dubbed “Operation Road Rage,” that resulted in charges in March against 35 individuals. During the multi-year probe, law enforcement seized a kilogram of heroin, most of which contained fentanyl. Many of the defendants allegedly distributed heroin and fentanyl-laced heroin in the Chicago area, with drivers dispatched to make deliveries after customers placed orders on a telephone hotline. The defendants have pleaded not guilty. The investigation was jointly conducted by OCDETF and HIDTA, with assistance from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, DEA, IRS-CI and CPD.
- JACQUELINE GREEN, a former technician at a Chicago pharmacy, was sentenced in July to a year in prison for stealing thousands of pills of hydrocodone and selling them for a profit. Green, of Chicago, and co-defendant ELIZABETH CRUZ, of Stone Park, received at least $10,800 in proceeds from selling the stolen pills. Cruz pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on Nov. 20, 2019. DEA conducted the investigation.
- The former owner of a Chicago medical clinic was sentenced in May to more than six years in prison for selling opioid prescriptions to patients whom he knew lacked a legitimate medical need for the drugs. MOHAMMED SHARIFF directed a clinic physician, DR. THEODORE GALVANI, to prescribe oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other powerful opioids without conducting a physical exam or performing any medical tests. Dr. Galvani pleaded guilty and was sentenced in July to six years in prison. The investigation was conducted by DEA, FBI, IRS-CI, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.
Other Significant Drug Trafficking Prosecutions
The U.S. Attorney’s Office targets traffickers who bring illegal drugs into Illinois from other states or countries, with a focus on organizations or individuals who use guns, violence and threats of violence to protect and promote their illegal businesses. The U.S. Attorney’s Office works directly with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to ensure that individuals trafficking drugs are charged with appropriate offenses in either federal or state court. Examples of recent drug trafficking prosecutions include:
- Federal law enforcement announced this month that it seized more than 14 kilograms of cocaine and 15 firearms as part of an investigation that dismantled a Texas-to-Chicago narcotics pipeline and resulted in charges against ten defendants. During the investigation, dubbed “Operation Grapevine,” authorities shut down a drug stash house in a lakefront condominium in Chicago. The probe was led by HIDTA, with support from OCDETF. Also participating were DEA, ATF, FBI, HSI, and CPD.
- Two high-ranking members of the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico were recently sentenced for their roles in transporting large amounts of cocaine and other drugs to the Chicago area. JESUS RAUL BELTRAN LEON and VICENTE ZAMBADA-NIEBLA are among 20 members of the Sinaloa or Beltran-Leyva drug cartels to be charged in federal court in Chicago. The Chicago-based investigation, led by DEA, has resulted in seizures of approximately $30.8 million, approximately eleven tons of cocaine, 265 kilograms of methamphetamines, and 78 kilograms of heroin. Beltran Leon was sentenced in August to 28 years in prison, while Zambada-Niebla was sentenced in May to 15 years.
- A federal judge in July sentenced MARIO HERRERA, formerly of Chicago, to five years in prison for laundering illegal drug proceeds on behalf of two cartels in Mexico. Herrera was among 30 defendants charged as part of the Chicago-based federal investigation dubbed “Operation King’s Gold.” The conspirators laundered more than $100 million in narcotics proceeds on behalf of the Jalisco New Generation and Sinaloa cartels. HSI, IRS-CI and ATF led the investigation, with assistance from DEA, CPD, USMS, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, DuPage County Sheriff’s Office, Buffalo Grove Police Department, and the Joliet Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad.
The revitalized PSN program continues to invest resources in many violence-prevention initiatives. Members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office have participated in offender notification meetings and youth outreach forums. Offender notification meetings provide an opportunity for individuals who have been convicted of a state or federal offense to make an informed choice not to engage in further criminal activity.
Researchers at Arizona State University found that the forums have a positive influence on the offenders’ perception of police and help create an understanding that criminal activity results in a higher risk to return to prison. Researchers at Yale University found that ex-offenders who attend an offender notification meeting in Chicago are 30% less likely to commit a new offense than those who did not attend a meeting.
The quarterly youth forums assist children aged 13-17 to identify a path other than gang membership. The youth forums are conducted in partnership with CPD, the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, and the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which tracks the progress of the children to assess results.
To learn more about Project Safe Neighborhoods in the Northern District of Illinois, visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndil/programs/psn.