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.
“A fundamental duty of our government is to keep people safe, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office is using every available law enforcement tool to do that,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch. “We are committed to investigating and prosecuting violent offenders and bringing quality, impactful cases to disrupt the cycle of violent crime in Chicago.”
The centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts continues to be Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders works together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. PSN is an evidence-based program that focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs to pursue lasting reductions in crime.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago leads the Chicago Firearms Trafficking Strike Force, one of five Department of Justice cross-jurisdictional strike forces designed to disrupt illegal firearms trafficking and reduce gun violence. The U.S. Attorney’s Office collaborates with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and other federal, state, and local law enforcement partners in the Northern District of Illinois and across the country to stem the supply of illegally trafficked firearms and to identify patterns, leads, and potential suspects in violent gun crimes. The Chicago strike force’s efforts have been substantially enhanced by the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD’s) Gun Investigations Team.
“Firearms traffickers and straw purchasers enable violence,” said U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch, Jr. “The Chicago Firearms Trafficking Strike Force has strengthened collaboration between our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners and enhanced our longstanding efforts to hold accountable individuals or groups who illegally traffic firearms into 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 cause violence in their communities.
Following up on activities most recently reported in May of this year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office remains active in fighting violent crime through enforcement actions, prosecutions, and community partnerships, as illustrated by the below examples from the past six months.
Enforcement Actions and Prosecutions
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 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 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 (RPD), Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office, and other police departments and prosecutors’ offices throughout northern Illinois. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and many of these law enforcement agencies participate in the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces Program (OCDETF), which identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal networks by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
The primary focus of these collaborative law enforcement efforts is to investigate and prosecute gangs and other groups of individuals who work in concert to commit violent crimes, including murders, attempted murders, robberies, carjackings, drug trafficking, and firearms trafficking. In addition, enforcement efforts also identify for potential federal prosecution individual offenders who drive violence.
Firearm and violent crime investigations in Chicago have 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 to help solve violent crimes and prosecute trigger-pullers and other gun offenders.
Racketeering and 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.
- After a two-month trial, a jury convicted the leader of the Wicked Town faction of the Traveling Vice Lords street gang and another member of the gang on racketeering conspiracy and firearm charges. The jury found that gang leader DONALD LEE, of Chicago, committed three murders and supplied the firearms used in three other killings, while TORANCE BENSON, of Chicago, committed a murder and three attempted murders. Lee faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Lee and Benson were among 13 defendants charged as part of a multi-year investigation. The other eleven defendants pleaded guilty prior to trial, with one being sentenced to 50 years in prison. The others are awaiting sentencing. ATF and CPD led the probe, with assistance from the FBI, IRS-CI, ISP, DEA, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, and the Chicago High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program (HIDTA), which addresses narcotics-related issues by collaborating with law enforcement and treatment and prevention partners.
- PIERRE ROBINSON, of Chicago, was convicted of committing murder in aid of racketeering. Robinson fatally shot a man in a convenience store on the South Side of Chicago to maintain and increase Robinson’s position in the “Evans Mob,” a violent street gang. Robinson faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison. ATF and CPD led the investigation.
- A member of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison for engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity that included multiple murders, armed robberies, drug trafficking, and extortion. TREMAYNE THOMPSON, of Chicago, admitted that he fatally shot two victims after receiving instructions from a gang leader. Thompson was one of nine defendants convicted as part of an investigation led by ATF, HSI, and CPD.
Firearms Trafficking Prosecutions
“We are using every available federal law enforcement tool to continue to bring impactful cases that hold firearm traffickers accountable and reduce violent crime in Chicago,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.
- JAMEL DANZY, of Hammond, Ind., was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for conspiring to “straw purchase” a handgun that was used to fatally shoot Chicago Police Officer Ella French and seriously wound her partner. Danzy bought the gun from a licensed dealer in Indiana on behalf of a convicted felon whom Danzy knew resided in Illinois and was not lawfully allowed to purchase a gun. The handgun was discovered by law enforcement at the scene of the shooting of the two officers. ATF and CPD investigated.
- A Freeport, Ill., woman pleaded guilty to firearm charges for “straw purchasing” multiple guns for a convicted felon whom she knew could not legally purchase the guns. FELICYA KNOX faces a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. ATF investigated the case, with assistance from the Stephenson County Sheriff’s Office and Freeport Police Department.
- ROBERTO PRIETO, of Chicago, was sentenced to ten years in prison for trafficking at least five firearms and illegally possessing guns as a previously convicted felon. ATF investigated.
- SCOTT TREECE, of Rockford, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for illegally trafficking at least ten firearms from Georgia to Chicago. Because Treece was a felon during this time, he used straw purchasers to purchase the guns, including co-defendant KYLE HALL, of Algonquin, Ill. Hall pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. ATF led the probe.
- A federal indictment charged RICARDO LARREA, of Whiting, Ind., with conspiring to “straw purchase” 27 firearms in Indiana on behalf of a Chicago resident. Larrea falsely certified on federal forms that he was the actual buyer of the guns, knowing that the Chicago resident had identified which firearms he wanted and paid Larrea to buy them. ATF investigated.
- JAVAUGHN A. HIXSON, of Rockford, was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for illegally possessing four firearm “switch” devices. The device, also known as a “Glock switch,” is designed to convert a firearm into a machine gun capable of automatically firing more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger. The investigation was conducted by ATF, RPD, and the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office.
- Machine gun dealer LEONARD D. JOHNSON, of Robbins, Ill., was sentenced to ten years in prison for unlawfully dealing handguns and “switch” devices in the Chicago area. A court-authorized search of Johnson’s residence turned up 117 “switch” devices and three handguns that had been converted into machine guns, as well as another handgun, a silencer, three extended magazines, and ammunition. ATF led the probe, with assistance from the Lansing, Ill., Police Department and Midlothian, Ill., Police Department.
- ARSHAD ZAYED, of Orland Hills, Ill., was charged with illegally selling 36 firearms, including personally manufactured “ghost guns” and machine guns. Many of the transactions occurred in a car wash that Zayed managed in the Chicago suburb of Matteson, Ill. The investigation was conducted by FBI, ATF, CPD, ISP, and IRS-CI.
- Two Indianapolis men – DEVANTE T. BROWN and COREY SARTIN – were charged with firearm violations for allegedly trafficking ten guns, including four semiautomatic rifles and two “ghost guns,” from Indianapolis to Chicago. The probe was led by ATF and CPD, with assistance from the Dolton, Ill., Police Department.
- Chicago resident ANTHONY PEREZ-FLORES was charged with trafficking more than a dozen guns, including a “ghost gun” and a machine gun, in Chicago. Perez-Flores was on parole for a state firearm conviction when he allegedly sold the guns to an undercover officer. ATF, CPD, and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office investigated.
“Our message to would-be carjackers is simple: Committing a senseless act of violence like carjacking will earn you a home in federal prison for a long time,” said U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch, Jr. “We are working closely with our law enforcement partners to pursue, prosecute, and detain violent carjackers.”
- MONTE HANDLEY, of Chicago, was charged with stealing a Nissan Sentra in the Archer Heights neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side. A woman and a one-year-old child were passengers in the vehicle at the time of the alleged carjacking. FBI and CPD led the probe, with assistance from ISP.
- Two Chicago men – EDSON RESENDEZ and MAVERICK CELA – were charged with carjacking vehicles in the Chicago suburbs of Morton Grove, Ill., and Skokie, Ill. Resendez allegedly brandished a firearm during the carjackings. The probe was led by FBI, with assistance from the Morton Grove Police Department and Skokie Police Department.
- KEWAN A. TILLMAN, of Calumet City, Ill., was charged with carjacking a vehicle at gunpoint while two children were in the car. ATF investigated, with assistance from the Posen, Ill., Police Department.
- A federal grand jury indicted NOAH RANSOM, of Chicago, on carjacking and firearm charges for allegedly carjacking a rideshare driver at gunpoint in downtown Chicago. FBI led the probe, with assistance from the ISP and CPD.
- Chicago resident ELIAS QUINONES-FIGUEROA was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for stealing a vehicle at gunpoint and striking a bicyclist while fleeing from police. FBI and CPD investigated, with assistance from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
- TRIMANE O. KIMBROUGH, of Chicago, was charged with brandishing a semiautomatic handgun and stealing a Mazda 6 from a victim in Chicago. The investigation was conducted by the FBI-led Violent Crimes Task Force, which includes the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, ISP, and CPD. The Northwestern University Police Department assisted the task force.
- Federal charges allege ALLEN CLAY, of Chicago, brandished a semiautomatic handgun and NARONN CAIN, of Chicago, brandished a semiautomatic rifle when the pair stole a Kia Optima from a victim in Chicago. The investigation was conducted by the FBI-led Violent Crimes Task Force and CPD.
Illegal Possession of Firearms Prosecutions
“Any felon thinking about picking up a gun in Chicago 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.
- KEJUAN CARR, of Chicago, was sentenced to more than four years in prison for illegally possessing a loaded handgun in Chicago’s Humboldt Park directly across the street from a children’s playground. Carr was on parole for a recent firearm conviction when he possessed the gun. FBI and CPD investigated, with assistance from IDOC.
- Heroin and fentanyl dealer LONDON GROVER, of Chicago, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for possessing a firearm to protect his drug dealing operation. ATF and CPD investigated. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Gun Crimes Prosecution Team, which works collaboratively with federal and local law enforcement to enhance the prosecution of illegal firearm possession in certain police districts in Chicago.
- Rockford resident THOMAS BROOKS II was sentenced to eight years in prison for illegally possessing a machine gun loaded with 17 rounds of ammunition. ATF and RPD conducted the investigation. The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodora Anderson, a prosecutor with the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office who is working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office under a federal grant to prosecute certain firearm offenses in federal court.
- A Chicago man was charged with firearm and drug offenses for allegedly possessing a loaded handgun, cocaine, and fentanyl on a Chicago Transit Authority train. CPD officers boarded a CTA Green Line train in the city’s downtown Loop neighborhood and arrested TERRELL WEATHERS. FBI and CPD investigated.
- Convicted felon SHAZARIYAH F. HIBBETT, of Rockford, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for illegally possessing a loaded semiautomatic handgun after a traffic stop in Rockford. ATF and RPD led the probe.
- TYJUAN LIGHTHALL was sentenced to more than five years in prison for illegally possessing a loaded handgun in Chicago and fraudulently obtaining a small business loan under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act. The gun, which Lighthall unlawfully purchased from an individual in Indiana for $400, was equipped with an extended magazine capable of holding more than fifteen rounds of ammunition. ATF and the Evanston Police Department investigated the case.
- A Grundy County man was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison for illegally possessing two handguns, three explosives, multiple magazines of ammunition, and drug paraphernalia. During a dispute a day earlier, JOHN FEENEY, of Minooka, Ill., used one of the firearms to shoot at an individual, striking the individual’s vehicle. The case was investigated by ATF and the Grundy County Sheriff’s Office.
- JULIAN ALMANZA, of Chicago, was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for illegally possessing a loaded handgun in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. Almanza stood in the middle of a street and pointed the gun at multiple individuals during an altercation. ATF and CPD investigated, with assistance from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
- A man who was previously convicted of a 1993 kidnapping and murder was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for illegally possessing a loaded handgun during a traffic stop in Maywood, Ill. DARNELL LUCKETT, of Berwyn, Ill., also possessed ammunition, heroin, marijuana, a digital scale, and counterfeit cash. FBI investigated, with assistance from ISP.
- BRIAN STAFFORD, of Bellwood, Ill., was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison for illegally possessing two handguns and three assault rifles and dealing heroin and crack cocaine. The firearms had been stolen from a cargo train in Chicago in 2016. FBI led the probe, with assistance from ATF, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Evergreen Park, Ill., Police Department, and Bolingbrook, Ill., Police Department.
- A man who illegally possessed a semiautomatic handgun in Evanston, Ill., and tried to flee from police was sentenced to nearly eight years in prison. DARIUS MORALES, of Evanston, was a passenger in a Jeep that led police on a high-speed chase through downtown Evanston until it crashed into a fence in the backyard of a residence. DEA led the probe, with assistance from ATF, Evanston Police Department, and Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Other Significant Violent Crime Prosecutions
- A Chicago man was sentenced to nearly eight years in prison for using a machine gun to rob a law enforcement officer during an undercover firearms deal. With the assistance of aerial support, law enforcement after the transaction followed CORTEZ PRICE to a nearby residence and arrested him. ATF and CPD led the probe. U.S. Customs and Border Protection provided the aerial support.
- JOSEPH HAMMOND, of Chicago, was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for attempting to fire a loaded gun at federal agents and task force officers while holding a toddler. Hammond pulled the trigger, but it misfired. ATF and CPD investigated.
- A federal judge sentenced FLOYD E. BROWN, of Springfield, Ill., to 55 years in prison for killing Special Deputy U.S. Marshal Jacob Keltner. Special Deputy Keltner was fatally wounded in 2019 when members of the U.S. Marshals Service Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force and other law enforcement officers attempted to execute a warrant for Brown’s arrest at a Rockford hotel. Special Deputy Keltner served as a McHenry County Sheriff’s deputy and was a sworn member of the task force. FBI led the federal investigation, with assistance from ATF, USMS, RPD, McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office, Bloomington, Ill., Police Department, Loves Park, Ill., Police Department, Lincoln, Ill., Police Department, Logan County Sheriff’s Office, and ISP.
- TIMOTHY O’DONNELL, of Chicago, was sentenced to nearly three years in prison for setting fire to a CPD vehicle during a period of civil unrest in downtown Chicago in 2020. O’Donnell set the fire while wearing a “Joker” mask that partially covered his face. FBI investigated, with assistance from CPD.
- A Chicago man was charged with shooting a Senior Inspector U.S. Marshal and his K9 partner during the execution of an arrest warrant. The Senior Inspector U.S. Marshal and K9 partner suffered non-life threatening injuries. The case was investigated by FBI and CPD, with assistance from USMS.
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 state’s attorney’s offices throughout the district to ensure that individuals trafficking drugs are charged with appropriate offenses in either federal or state court.
Public safety is also being threatened by unprecedented levels of opioid poisoning, misuse, and overdose. Opioids are a class of highly addictive drugs that includes heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. U.S. Attorney Lausch in 2019 created an Opioid Task Force for the purpose of combatting the growing number of unlawful distributions of controlled substances fueling the nation’s opioid crisis. This effort includes prosecuting the leaders of traditional drug trafficking organizations, as well as rogue health care providers and others who contribute to the misuse of opioids.
“We are actively attacking the opioid crisis from all investigative and prosecutorial angles,” said U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch, Jr.
- International drug trafficker LUIS EDUARDO GONZALEZ GARCIA was sentenced to 30 years in prison for partnering with Mexican drug cartels to purchase and transport thousands of kilograms of cocaine to Chicago and other parts of the U.S. DEA led the probe as part of an OCDETF operation.
- A multi-year drug trafficking investigation resulted in charges against ten individuals for allegedly conspiring to distribute at least 35 kilograms of fentanyl-laced heroin and crack cocaine on the West Side of Chicago. Law enforcement during the probe seized more than a kilogram of narcotics, as well as 13 firearms and more than $40,000 in suspected illicit proceeds. FBI, IRS-CI, and CPD conducted the investigation.
- RICHARD A. HUSBAND and WAYNE TOWNSEND, both of Chicago, were charged with selling fentanyl-laced heroin to individuals at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is leading this ongoing investigation.
- A suburban Chicago man was sentenced to seven years in prison for laundering illegal narcotics proceeds on behalf of drug traffickers in Mexico. HUAZHI HAN, of North Riverside, Ill., picked up approximately $1.5 million in drug money from others in the Chicago area, used the cash to purchase and re-sell electronic devices, and then sent the laundered money back to drug traffickers in Mexico. DEA investigated, with assistance from IRS-CI, CPD, HSI, and the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
- ROSEMARY MAYS, an office manager for a Chicago medical practice, was sentenced to a year in prison for using a doctor’s prescription pad to write more than 3,000 fraudulent prescriptions for hydrocodone, oxycodone, and other controlled substances. The case was investigated by DEA, FBI, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.
- RAYLOE JACKSON, of Maywood, Ill., was sentenced to more than ten years in prison for working with a Rockford-based narcotics supplier to traffic fentanyl and heroin. The investigation was conducted by a DEA-led task force, which included officers from the Crystal Lake, Ill., Police Department, Belvidere, Ill., Police Department, and Boone County, Ill., Sheriff’s Office. RPD assisted the task force.
- A man who failed to appear in federal court in Chicago before his 2009 drug trial was arrested in Panama and returned to the U.S. COSME CHACON was among four defendants indicted in 2007 for allegedly participating in a drug trafficking organization that transported heroin to Chicago from New York, Florida, and Texas. HSI and IRS-CI investigated the drug case. USMS, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs assisted in Chacon’s return to the U.S.
- A federal jury convicted two suburban Chicago men on conspiracy charges as part of a federal probe that disrupted a Mexico-to-Chicago drug pipeline. SHELDON MORALES, of Morton Grove, Ill., and EDUARDO SANTANA, of Skokie, Ill., conspired with a supplier in Mexico and two inmates in a Texas prison to traffic methamphetamine, fentanyl, and cocaine from Mexico to the Chicago suburbs. DEA and IRS-CI led the probe, with assistance from the Evanston Police Department.
- Suburban Chicago physician ELIZA DIACONESCU was charged with health care fraud for allegedly prescribing opioids to patients without a medical exam and fraudulently billing Medicare for the nonexistent treatment. The case was investigated by DEA, FBI, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, and U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General.
The PSN program continues to invest resources in violence-prevention initiatives. The PSN Chicago Task Force, which includes members from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, CPD, ATF, IDOC, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, and academic researchers, is designed to address gun violence in certain neighborhoods in Chicago with the highest violent crime rates through aggressive prosecution of violent offenders. The task force, which in 2018 expanded to include the city of Rockford, strengthens the relationship between the U.S. Attorney’s Office, CPD, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, RPD, and Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office.
The PSN Task Force dedicates federal grant funds to support crime prevention programs that are aligned with law enforcement’s strategy to address gun violence. Currently, PSN grant funds support Camp Hope, a crime prevention program in Rockford for at-risk juveniles who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence; Choose to Change, a program created by Children’s Home & Aid and Youth Advocate Programs in Chicago to engage youth who are heavily impacted by violence and trauma by connecting them with intensive advocate and wraparound support services and trauma-informed therapy; and Readi Chicago’s Reentry Program, a pilot program in Chicago jointly developed by Heartland Alliance and IDOC to provide pre-release and post-release support for individuals returning home from prison.
Members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office have also participated in offender notification meetings and youth outreach forums. These meetings and forums are still being held during the Covid-19 pandemic, including in a virtual environment, to maintain critical 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 youth outreach 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 youth forums assist teenagers to identify a path beyond criminal activity. They are conducted in partnership with CPD, the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, and local social service agencies.