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Nearly 100 Gang Members Face Drug Charges After Roundup

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CHICAGO (STMW) – Chicago Police and the FBI began a roundup of about 100 members of the Traveling Vice Lords gang Wednesday morning following a drug investigation launched about two years ago.

Operation Blue Knight involved wiretaps on gang members’ phones and led to drug, weapons and other charges. None of the suspects is charged with a violent crime, although the gang has been connected to numerous killings and shootings on the West Side, sources said.

Some of the suspects will be prosecuted in federal court and others in Cook County Criminal Court. About 60 suspects were arrested Wednesday morning and about 40 more are being sought.

The investigation began in 2008 when an off-duty Chicago Police officer, Robert Soto, was killed on the West Side.

Soto was sitting in an SUV with state Department of Children and Family Services supervisor Kathryn Romberg, outside her home on Aug. 13, 2008. A Vice Lords member initially was charged with the murder, but charges were later dropped.

The CPD Organized Crime Division began investigating an alleged drug-trafficking organization led by members of the Traveling Vice Lords that operated in the area of Kedzie and Ohio, known as “KO,” in August 2008. The FBI joined the investigation three months later, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Like any large gang roundup, police and the FBI will interview the suspects about their knowledge of any murders or shootings, sources said.

The federal defendants arrested Wednesday were expected to begin appearing at 1:30 p.m. before Magistrate Judge Young Kim in in U.S. District Court, and will continue through the afternoon and Thursday morning, the release said.

Around-the-clock, seven-day-a-week retail street sales of crack cocaine and heroin averaged between $3,000 and $6,000 per day, the release said.

A total of eight federal complaints filed Tuesday and unsealed Wednesday charged a total of 31 defendants in connection with the investigation. One complaint alleges that several Traveling Vice Lords members and their associates, led by brothers Jason Austin, aka “J Rock,” and Charles
Austin, aka “Bubba,” conspired to distribute crack cocaine and heroin to customers via hand-to-hand transactions, the release said.

During the investigation, law enforcement officers repeatedly surveilled the conduct of alleged conspirators. Surveillance, often video-recorded, observed hand-to-hand drug transactions, controlled purchases of narcotics by undercover police officers, and controlled purchases of narcotics by confidential sources.

According to an 89-page complaint affidavit by a Chicago police officer assigned to an FBI task force, the heroin was named “Blue Magic,” and when the quality of the “Blue Magic” was good, customers came from as far away as Elgin and Iowa to purchase it.

In the fall of 2008, the organization temporarily moved to Chicago and St. Louis avenues due to a strong police presence in the KO area. When the move occurred, the organization initially conducted a “pass out” of heroin, and later resumed sales, but sold only about half the amount sold at the KO, which often ranged from 60 to 120 grams per day.

The drug operation at Chicago and St. Louis avenues allegedly was managed by Kevin Terry Jr. In the fall of 2009, the heroin operation temporarily relocated again to Ferdinand and Hamlin, also run by Terry, due to Jason Austin’s failure to successfully keep the operation running at KO, according to the charges.

The operation relied on defendants to store packaged drugs in common areas and residence. “Runners” distributed the packaged drugs to “managers,” who supervised the drug operation and distributed the drugs to “pack workers,” who worked shifts selling drugs to customers. The managers were also responsible for collecting proceeds of the sales.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office obtained arrest warrants for 65 defendants, including four juveniles, on narcotics possession and delivery charges, including more than 20 Class X felony narcotics charges.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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