Going after gangs, U.S. attorney targeting violent criminals
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org June 21, 2014 11:32PM
Chicago Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy (left) and James Trusty, Chief of Organized Crime & Gang Section of U.S. Department of Justice, (right) listen as United States Attorney David Capp of the Northern District of Indiana speaks during a press conference announcing indictments against Latin King members and associates, including two Chicago police officers, at the Federal Courthouse in Hammond, Ind. Friday November 18, 2011. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Gangs aim to mount a comeback
Updated: July 23, 2014 6:09AM
HAMMOND — U.S. Attorney David Capp had been sworn in for less than two months in June 2010 when his office announced what would become one of its largest cases in the past decade: the Latin Kings racketeering conspiracy.
Although it started small with just six defendants, it charged them in the 2007 Soprano’s parking lot double homicide that had seen no arrests until then. Eventually, it would grow to more than 20 defendants, including two Chicago police officers, and 20 unsolved murder cases.
Today, all but one of those defendants — Paulino Salazar, who remains on the run — are sitting in prison, with most of them serving two decades or more.
The case, it turns out, was the start of a new push to use racketeering charges to go after entire street gangs in Northwest Indiana for all their crimes.
“We were increasingly concerned with what we were seeing on the streets,” Capp said in reference to increasing crime and unsolved homicides.
A broad approach
His office had used racketeering charges against street gangs before but not recently. Capp and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Nozick, who handled the Latin Kings case, said there was a smaller racketeering case against the gang in the early 2000s, but none since Nozick joined the office in 2004.
But the racketeering conspiracy charge allowed Capp’s office to include not just federal crimes but also state crimes and to span a large period of time. In this case, the conspiracy count eventually covered 20 years of Latin Kings activity in Northwest Indiana and the southside of Chicago.
Several factors played a role in allowing the case to grow to that level, including crossing state borders to work with the Chicago Police Department.
Capp said he wanted to emphasize working with the department, noting how connected crime in the region and Chicago is.
“The violence is a regional issue,” he said.
Another factor was getting Joseph Cooley, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, on board. Cooley originally worked from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Hammond, Capp said. So the two were already familiar.
Then they found out that Cooley had also been investigating the Latin Kings but on a national level. He’s the one who knew about meetings in Texas between Latin Kings based down there and those in the Chicago and Northwest Indiana area.
“Those things all came together, and we decided we were really going to pursue this,” Capp said.
The case expands
The case originally focused on the murders of Joe Walsh and Gonzalo Diaz, leaders of the rival Latin Dragons. The two were gunned down as they were leaving a party at the former Sopranos Lounge in early 2007. Capp’s office claimed Highland resident Alexander Vargas orchestrated the killings in revenge for the shooting death of his brother a year before.
As defendants started pleading guilty, the case kept growing until it encompassed 23 people, most of whom were from Illinois including two Chicago Police Department officers, Antonio Martinez Jr. and Alex Guerrero.
Crimes charged as part of the conspiracy ranged as far back as 1990 and included murders, attempted murders, kidnappings, burglaries and the trafficking of thousands of pounds of cocaine and marijuana.
All the arrested defendants but Martin Anaya, who was convicted after going to trial, eventually pleaded guilty. All but one defendant, Sergio Robles, have been sentenced. It is unclear when he will be sentenced
Some of the defendants have filed appeals, which are still working their way through the system.
Working with Chicago
The U.S. attorney said he considers the racketeering case a success, one that his office has already replicated. In November 2011, about a year-and-a-half after they first announced the Latin Kings case, the office announced a new racketeering case against the Imperial Gangsters in East Chicago. Of 24 defendants, all but one have already pleaded guilty. The remaining defendant, Juan Briseno, is awaiting a federal trial on numerous counts including 12 dealing with six homicides. Capp’s office has said they will seek the death penalty against him if he is convicted.
A third racketeering case, although smaller, was announced last fall against three members and an associate of the Two Six street gang for a homicide that took place more than a decade ago in East Chicago.
Capp said that similar cases in the future are likely, with Nozick essentially dedicated to them.
“We are going to continue to use this model to go after other criminal groups,” he said.
Future cases might not be exactly the same as those already charged, though. Nozick said he didn’t know whether the office will continue to receive help from the DOJ as they did with Cooley. They also have the benefit of the new Crime Gun Analysis Center, operated by the ATF, in Chicago. The goal of the lab is to get all police departments in the Chicago metropolitan region — including those in Northwest Indiana — to start handling gun evidence the same way and to then send it to the lab.
“We’ve got to start doing more on connecting the dots on gun evidence,” Capp said.
The idea is that the lab will be able to see if a gun used during a crime in Gary was used in any other previous crimes, he said.
Nozick added that although the technology to look for these connections has existed for some time, the lab helps to gather it in one place and to also make certain that all police departments are following the same protocol.
“You’re only as good as the data,” he said.