Reporting Lisa Fielding
UPDATED 04/07/11 5:39 a.m.
CHICAGO (WBBM/CBS) — Prosecutors are hailing the conviction of the alleged top leader of the Chicago-based Latin Kings as a blow to one of the nation’s most powerful street gangs.
As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Lisa Fielding reports, after a six-week trial, a federal jury on Wednesday convicted Augustin Zambrano, 51, the highest-ranking leader of the Almighty Latin King Nation, of racketeering conspiracy (RICO), conspiracy to commit extortion, and assault with a dangerous weapon.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s Lisa Fielding Reports
Three other high-ranking leaders of the Latin Kings street gang were also convicted at trial of charges involving narcotics trafficking and related violence that plagued numerous neighborhoods across the city.
“This verdict inflicts a serious blow to the to leaders of the Latin Kings,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said in a news release. “It demonstrates that the combined and coordinated efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement can assemble cases looking at disparate crimes — such as selling false identification documents in Little Village — and tie them all the way back to the gang leaders responsible for a broad array of criminal conduct.
Zamnbrano was identified at trial as the “Corona,” which means he was the highest leader of the gang nationwide, and responsible for oversight about 10,000 Latin Kings gang members in Illinois alone, and many more in other states, according to the release.
Also convicted were 33-year-old Vicente Garcia, who was in charge of all Latin Kings in Illinois; Jose Guzman, 34, known as a former “National Enforcer’ in the Little Village faction; and Alphonso Chavez, 26, the leader of the gang’s 31st and Drake faction.
The four were among a total of 31 co-defendants who were indicted in September 2008 or charged in a superceding indictment in Oct. 2009. Of those 31, 24 pleaded guilty, four were convicted at trial and three remain fugitives. Three of the defendants who pleaded guilty testified as government witness at the trial, the news release said.
The RICO conspiracy count included evidence that Zambrano and several co-defendants conspired to demand and receive payment from the organization by illegally selling fraudulent immigration documents in Little Village by threatening and using violence against members of that organization unless the defendant received regular cash payments, the release said.
Prosecutors presented some disturbing evidence during the trial, including a video showing about a dozen Latin King members beating and kicking a fellow gang member for several minutes as punishment.
Authorities accused Zambrano and other gang leaders of extorting a “street tax” from non-gang members who sold false identification documents, and using force and threats of violence unless they received it.
The gang leaders also kept their victims in fear by enforcing what was called an “SOS” – “shoot on sight” or “smash on sight” – against any Latin Kings member who cooperated with law enforcement, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Many of those charged and convicted in the trial were leaders of the 24 subunits of the gang that comprised the 26th Street Region in Little Village. They sold powder cocaine twice a month to fund the “Nation Box,” a kitty used by the regional gang hierarchy to buy guns and ammunition, and to pay funeral and attorney fees for gang members, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The gang subunits were found at each intersection along 26th Street from Fairfield Avenue west to Millard Avenue, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The investigation that led to the convictions began in late 2006, agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which initially brought charges against 38 Latin Kings members and associates, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. In 2008, 40 more Latin Kings members were charged. In total, more than 80 people associated with the gang have been charged, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
RICO and extortion conspiracy and assault with a dangerous weapon each carry a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.