CHICAGO — John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, today provided an update on federal prosecutions and strategies to combat violent crime in Chicago and the surrounding area.
The centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts continues to be Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders works together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develops comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.
“The number of violent crimes in Chicago remains stubbornly high, including homicides, shootings, and carjackings, and we have seen troubling increases in these areas since the pandemic began,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch. “We are using every available federal law enforcement tool to continue to bring quality, impactful cases that hold violent offenders accountable and reduce violent crime in Chicago.”
In addition to a sustained focus on prosecutions of federal firearm offenses, the U.S. Attorney’s Office endeavors to disrupt violent crime by seeking pre-trial detention for defendants who pose a danger to the community and pursuing appropriate prison sentences to deter dangerous individuals from continuing to wreak havoc in their communities. Through enforcement actions, prosecutions, and community partnerships, the U.S. Attorney’s Office works to lower 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 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (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 the Chicago Police Department (CPD), Illinois State Police (ISP), Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Rockford Police Department, and other police departments throughout northern Illinois.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Gun Crimes Prosecution Team continues to enhance the prosecution of illegal firearm possession in the most violent police districts in Chicago. Working collaboratively with federal and local law enforcement, the 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 works tirelessly to investigate and prosecute firearms cases from those Chicago neighborhoods suffering from the most violent crimes,” 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 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.
Following up on the activities our office reported in October of last year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office remains active in fighting violent crime through various enforcement actions, prosecutions, and sentencings, as illustrated by the examples below:
- Gang-Related Prosecutions
“Combating the unacceptable level of gang violence in Chicago has been and will continue to be a top priority in our office,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.
- Last month, DAVID SANTIAGO, of Chicago, was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for illegally selling guns to Chicago gang members. During the investigation law enforcement seized 16 firearms, including rifles and semi-automatic handguns. Santiago purportedly obtained many of the firearms in Kansas and boasted to the Chicago buyers that the guns were “clean” and “brand new.” The case was investigated by ATF and CPD.
- RONTRELL TURNIPSEED, of Matteson, Ill., was sentenced in March to ten years in federal prison for engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity that included attempted murder, drug trafficking, and obstruction of justice. Turnipseed conspired with leadership of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang to violently protect the gang’s drug dealing in Chicago. Eight co-defendants have pleaded guilty, while three have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. The probe was led by FBI, ATF, and CPD. The effort was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the U.S. using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.
- A superseding indictment in March accused JASON BROWN, the alleged leader of the AHK street gang, of illegally possessing four loaded handguns in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime that included distributing methamphetamines. The superseding indictment also renewed charges previously filed against Brown for allegedly providing material support to the terrorist organization ISIS. The case was investigated by FBI, CPD, IRS-CI, ISP, USPIS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, HSI, Lombard, Ill., Police Department, and Addison, Ill., Police Department, with assistance from the National Security Division of the Department of Justice.
- 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, including our colleagues in other U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Midwest and across the country, to hold accountable individuals or groups who traffic firearms into Chicago.”
- KALIL WARNER, of Chicago, was charged earlier this month with five counts of illegal transfer and possession of a machine gun. The indictment accuses Warner of transferring and possessing “switch devices,” which are designed to convert handguns into machine guns. The investigation was led by ATF.
- Earlier this month, three U.S. Army soldiers at Fort Campbell were charged in the Middle District of Tennessee with illegally purchasing and transferring dozens of firearms to the streets of Chicago. During the probe, five firearms recovered from a shooting scene in Chicago were found to have been purchased at firearms dealers in Tennessee. Further investigation identified the soldiers as the alleged majority purchasers of the firearms. Law enforcement in Chicago, including CPD and ATF, assisted in the investigation.
- Last month, SCOTT TREECE, of Rockford, Ill., and KYLE HALL, of Skokie, Ill., were charged with trafficking firearms. In social media postings, Treece allegedly offered to purchase firearms in Georgia on behalf of others and distribute the guns in the Chicago area. The investigation was led by ATF.
- DARIUS BROWN, of Chicago, was indicted last month on a federal firearm charge for allegedly straw purchasing multiple handguns in a suburban store on behalf of another individual. ATF led the probe.
- BENITTA GROSS, of Springfield, Ill., was charged in March with providing a semi-automatic handgun to a convicted felon in the Chicago area whom she knew was not lawfully allowed to possess it. The investigation was led by ATF and CPD, with valuable assistance from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s Office, Sangamon County Sheriff's Office, USMS, and Springfield Police Department.
- Alleged straw-purchaser DIAMOND SMITH, of Chicago, was charged in March with making false statements in the acquisition of a firearm for allegedly buying handguns in a Chicago suburb on behalf of another individual. ATF conducted the investigation.
- LEONARD D. JOHNSON was charged in December after law enforcement seized machine guns and more than 100 “switch devices” from his home in the Chicago suburb of Robbins. Each “switch device” is capable of converting a semi-automatic handgun into a machine gun. ATF led the probe, with valuable assistance from the Lansing Police Department and Midlothian Police Department.
- BENJAMIN CORTEZ-GOMEZ and GUSTAVO URIEL GOMEZ-HIPOLITO were indicted in November for allegedly trafficking multiple handguns from Indiana to Chicago. ATF and CPD led the investigation, with assistance from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations.
- Carjacking and Robbery Prosecutions
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office works closely with federal, state, and local law enforcement officers to prosecute violent crimes, such as carjacking, that violate federal law,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.
- A violent carjacking late last week in Chicago led to a federal charge against KIAR EVANS, of Chicago. Evans allegedly took a vehicle at gunpoint near Garfield Park. The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed the carjacking charge directly in federal court the day after the incident. FBI and CPD investigated the case.
- ANTONIO EDWARDS, of Chicago, was sentenced last month to more than 18 years in federal prison for participating in a violent robbery crew that targeted cell phone stores in the Chicago area and downstate. Two other members of the crew – ANDREW MCHANEY and JAMES BATES, both of Chicago – previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced to federal prison terms of 14 years and eight years, respectively. The probe was led by the FBI, with assistance from police departments in Chicago, Waukegan, Bradley, Mount Prospect, North Aurora, Skokie, and Homewood.
- Chicago residents FALANDIS RUSSELL and TERRANCE WILLIAMS were charged earlier this year with conspiring to violently rob pawn shops, currency exchanges, and retail stores in Chicago and the suburbs, netting the conspirators more than $22,000 in cash and more than $305,000 worth of jewelry. The case was investigated by the FBI, with valuable assistance from Police Departments in Chicago, Calumet City, Summit, Burbank, Bolingbrook, Round Lake Beach, Hammond (Ind.), Streamwood, and Arlington Heights.
- DAVID JOHNSON, of Chicago, was charged in February after he allegedly carjacked a vehicle in Orland Park and fired a shot at a police officer who was pursuing him. Johnson allegedly drove the stolen vehicle to Chicago, where he crashed into another car and fled on foot before being arrested. ATF, CPD, Oak Forest Police Department, and Orland Park Police Department participated in the probe.
- Carjacking charges were also filed against OMARION FRANKLIN, of Chicago, who allegedly violently took an Infiniti G35 sedan from a victim in Skokie last summer. FBI investigated, with valuable assistance from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Skokie Police Department, and CPD.
- An Uber Eats driver was the victim of a carjacking last summer allegedly carried out by JAHEIM HENYARD, of Chicago. Henyard was also charged with a carjacking in Cicero and an attempted carjacking in Oak Park. FBI, CPD, Oak Park Police Department, and Cicero Police Department participated in the investigation, with assistance from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
- Lake County resident ZAYVEON THOMAS was charged in January with attempted carjacking for allegedly trying to violently take a Lexus IS300 sedan from a victim in the parking lot of a north suburban golf course last summer. FBI led the probe, with assistance from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
- Illegal Possession of Firearms Prosecutions
“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,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.
- Earlier this month, RODNEY BURNETT, of Chicago, was sentenced to more than nine years in federal prison for illegally possessing ammunition near Garfield Park on the city’s West Side. As a convicted felon, Burnett was prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm. The case was investigated by FBI and CPD.
- Last month, MARIO PRADO, of South Elgin, Ill., who had previously been convicted of a felony firearm offense, was sentenced to nine years in federal prison for illegally possessing a semi-automatic rifle and numerous semi-automatic handguns. ATF and ISP conducted the probe.
Opioids are a class of highly addictive drugs that includes heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. Public safety is being threatened by unprecedented levels of opioid misuse 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 misuse of opioids.
“The current opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch. “We are actively attacking this crisis from all investigative and prosecutorial angles.”
- Suburban Chicago resident DENNIS GERMAN was charged in February with allegedly trafficking fentanyl, cocaine, and heroin, and illegally possessing loaded handguns. The indictment also accuses German of conspiring with two others to traffic cocaine and heroin last year. ATF investigated, with assistance from the Midlothian Police Department, Orland Park Police Department, and Dolton Police Department.
- More than 26 individuals were charged with various narcotics trafficking or firearms offenses as part of an investigation into criminal activities on the West Side of Chicago. As part of the probe, law enforcement shut down a telephone drug hotline utilized by the defendants to sell narcotics. DEA, ATF and CPD participated in the investigation, with assistance from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, USMS, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, and IRS-CI.
- 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.
- This week, a drug trafficking investigation dubbed “Operation Tragic Blow” resulted in federal charges against 17 individuals for allegedly distributing or attempting to distribute heroin and cocaine in Chicago. Law enforcement during the multi-year probe seized multiple kilograms of the narcotics. HSI and CPD led the investigation, which was part of an OCDETF operation.
- Last month, Chinese national XIANBING GAN was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for laundering illegal narcotics proceeds on behalf of drug traffickers in Mexico. Gan schemed in 2018 to have approximately $534,206 in narcotics proceeds picked up in Chicago and transferred to various bank accounts in China, with the money ultimately intended for drug traffickers in Mexico. The investigation was conducted by HSI and IRS-CI.
- In March, five suspected associates of the Sinaloa Cartel were indicted on drug trafficking charges for allegedly conspiring to distribute cocaine in the Chicago area. One defendant was recently extradited to the United States to face the charges. DEA conducted the probe, with valuable assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, USMS, and INTERPOL.
- Federal drug and gun charges were filed in February against LARRY DENNIS, of Markham, who allegedly sold suspected crack cocaine on three occasions. Dennis also allegedly illegally possessed a loaded handgun in his residence in January. ATF and the Midlothian Police Department investigated the case, with assistance from the Markham Police Department, Dolton Police Department, and Orland Park Police Department.
The PSN program continues to invest resources in violence-prevention initiatives. Members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office have participated in offender notification meetings and youth outreach forums. Even during the current COVID-19 pandemic, these meetings and forums are still being held, including in a virtual environment, to maintain the outreach to former offenders.
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 in Chicago 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.