Thursday, August 17, 2017

12 Members of the Conservative Vice Lords/Concrete Cartel Street Gang Indicted on Federal RICO Charges

Twelve members of the Conservative Vice Lords/Concrete Cartel Street Gang, a nation-wide street gang with its origin and home base in Chicago, Illinois, were charged in a federal indictment for Racketeering (RICO), business and pharmacy robberies and drug trafficking. Lawrence J. Laurenzi, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, announced the indictment.

The indictment alleges that the Concrete Cartel and its members operate mainly in Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee and North Mississippi. Its leadership consists of a regional/southern leader, a state-wide leader, a city-wide leader and community/division leaders in the areas of (Whitehaven, Orange Mound, East Memphis, South Memphis and North Memphis). Within the organization/street gang, there are different areas of responsibilities or roles: Ministers of Command, Chief Violators, Chiefs of Security, Chief Enforcers, Ministers of Literature, Lieutenants and foot soldiers. Members rise to these positions through acts of violence, including but not limited to: shootings, robbing, and drug and human trafficking. The Concrete Cartel encourages robbing businesses, mainly pharmacies, to take opioids and other Schedule II controlled substances to enrich themselves and the membership.

Davante Turner, William Pinkney, Markease Alexander, Nernest Nesby, Lashawn Shannon, Tondwin Lewis, Arterrious McCalleum, Travon Jones, Rickey Bell, Ariq Eric Rayford, Clemeko Dewayne Starks Jr., and Darnell Trevon Jordan are charged with committing multiple acts of business robberies while using firearms. The indictment alleges that on occasion the Concrete Cartel robbed pharmacies and would later distribute and sell the stolen opioids or controlled substances on the streets of Memphis and elsewhere. Along with the RICO charge, the defendants were also indicted for their participation in the following business robberies, using firearms:

  • On July 18, 2015, Davante Turner and others robbed CVS Pharmacy at 786 N. Germantown Parkway, Memphis, Tennessee. During this robbery, Turner and others took the following drugs: Oxycodone, Fentanyl and Methylphenidate.
  • On February 15, 2016, Ariq Eric Rayford, Clemeko Dewaye Starks Jr., and Darnell Trevon Jordan robbed Walgreens Pharmacy at 4653 Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis, Tennessee. Rayford, Starks Jr., and Jordan attempted to take Roxicodone drugs.
  • On April 30, 2016, Travon Jones, Nernest Nesby and Arterrious McCalleum robbed Mojo Vapors at 6522 Quince, Memphis, Tennessee; Exxon Mobil Gas Station at 6021 Mt. Moriah, Memphis, Tennessee; and CVS Pharmacy at 6620 Winchester Road, Memphis, Tennessee.
  • On May 1, 2016, Travon Jones, Nernest Nesby and Arterrious McCalleum robbed Circle K at 7195 Winchester Road, Memphis, Tennessee, and Exxon at 6455 E. Shelby Drive, Memphis, Tennessee.
  • On July 22, 2016, Markease Alexander and others robbed CVS Pharmacy at 786 N. Germantown Parkway, Memphis, Tennessee. During the robbery, Alexander and others took the following drugs: Oxycodone, Oxymorphine and Oxymorphone. Lashawn Shannon distributed the drugs for Alexander and others.
  • On November 1, 2016, Markease Alexander, Ricky Bell and others robbed CVS Pharmacy at 2115 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee. Bell, Alexander and others took the following drugs: Oxycodone and Acetaminophen, Dextroamphetamine, Oxycodone, Methylphenidate, Lisdexamfetamine and Oxycodone Hydrochloride.
  • On July 5, 2017, Davante Levert Turner, Tondwin Lewis and William Pinkney robbed CVS Pharmacy at 6620 Winchester Road, Memphis, Tennessee. Turner, Lewis and Pinkney attempted to take Roxicodone drugs.

The indictment is the result of an extensive investigation which began in 2015 by federal, state and local law enforcement officials into the Conservative Vice Lords/Concrete Cartel. This investigation entailed the recovery or seizures of thousands of opioids or controlled substances before the defendants distributed the drugs on the streets.

Lawrence J. Laurenzi, Acting U.S. Attorney, Western District of Tennessee, said, "Today’s indictment serves to demonstrate the commitment of our office and our law enforcement partners to curtail the onslaught of business robberies and to eradicate the violent criminal element from the Western District of Tennessee. As we have previously stated, gang activity will not be tolerated."

"Gangs will not run our city. We will continue to weed out the criminal elements that surround gang motivated crimes, and we will fully support our state and federal partners in prosecuting criminals to the fullest extent of the law" said Michael Rallings, Director, Memphis Police Department.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Safe Street Task Force and the Multi-Agency Gang Unit of the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Whitmore is prosecuting this case on the government’s behalf.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Teamsters Not Guilty in ‘Top Chef’ Extortion Trial

The four Teamsters members who crashed the filming of the “Top Chef” television show at a restaurant in Milton in 2014 were acquitted Tuesday of all criminal charges in a case that was closely followed by the entertainment industry and organized labor.

The verdict from the jury of nine women and three men was announced in US District Court in Boston around 11 a.m. Tuesday, prompting bear hugs and backslapping between defense lawyers and defendants, smiles and tears of relief, and at least one prayer of thanks.

“Oh, my God!” cried out one woman as the acquittals were announced. “Thank you, Jesus!”

The Teamsters — Daniel Redmond, 49; John Fidler, 53; Robert Cafarelli, 47; and Michael Ross, 63 — were each acquitted of a single count of conspiracy to extort and a single count of attempted extortion. They are members of the Charlestown-based Teamsters Local 25.

US District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock, who presided over the trial, which explored the line between lawful union advocacy and menacing criminal activity, urged the defendants to pay closer attention to legal and physical boundaries in future labor action. “I would encourage the defendants to think long and hard . . . about approaching boundaries,’’ he said from the bench.

As he left the courthouse, Cafarelli said that when he was standing in the courtroom, waiting for the verdict to be announced, his heart was racing, but his mind was blank. Asked by a reporter for his reaction to having faced criminal charges, he replied in a sarcastic tone, “I’m thrilled I went through the process.” He then walked away, saying as he went, “I want to call my kids. That’s what I want to do.”

The case included testimony over a week from 17 witnesses, including “Top Chef” celebrity host Padma Lakshmi and judge Gail Simmons, who described feeling terrified and possibly being physically assaulted as they arrived at the Steel & Rye restaurant where the Teamsters were waiting.

“One guy came up, was coming toward the car, and he seemed really mad. They all seemed heated up,” Lakshmi told jurors. “I felt he was bullying me. I felt he was saying, ‘I might hit you.’ . . . I was just petrified and wanted it to be over.”

None of the defendants testified on their own behalf, but defense attorneys said in closing arguments that while the Teamsters might have used rough language, or behavior that might have seemed threatening, their actions were legal under federal law.

“There is a recognition that the Teamsters have the right to protest. . . . It doesn’t help anybody to have a production company come in to town, take away [union] jobs,’’ said defense attorney Oscar Cruz Jr.

The trial also generated attention on the administration of Mayor Martin J. Walsh as at least three witnesses testified that a top Walsh aide sought to withhold city permits for “Top Chef” unless the show hired union members.

The show began to film in Milton after two Boston restaurants canceled their participation following a tip from City Hall’s tourism chief, Kenneth Brissette, that the union would picket, according to testimony and court records.

Brissette and another aide, Timothy Sullivan, face extortion charges in a separate case alleging that they threatened to revoke permits for the Boston Calling music festival because organizers would not hire union members. They are set to go on trial in January, and the two have been on paid leave since their arrest last year.

Walsh has declined to answer questions about that case or the allegations made against Brissette in the “Top Chef” trial.

The jury started deliberations Thursday. In an unusual twist Monday afternoon, the forewoman sent a note to Woodlock reporting that one juror did not believe in the constitutional principle that people are innocent of a crime until proven guilty.

“We have a juror who is assuming guilt over innocence,’’ the jury forewoman wrote. “We are not sure how to go on from here. Any suggestions would be helpful.”

Woodlock, in his written response, emphasized the meaning of the presumption of innocence in American courts. “It is a cardinal principle of our system of justice that every person is presumed innocent unless and until his guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt from evidence properly introduced and admitted at trial,” Woodlock wrote. “Presumption is not a mere formality, it is a matter of the utmost importance.”

Woodlock told jurors he would make their names publicly available Thursday. “You don’t have to talk to anybody at all. You were engaged in very tough discussions,’’ Woodlock said. “I leave it to you.”

Thanks to John R. Ellement, Milton J. Valencia and Maria Cramer.

Iced: The Story of Organized Crime In Canada

If police really want to end the gang war raging throughout the Lower Mainland, they might want to have a sit-down with the Hell's Angels.

That is one of the more provocative suggestions by criminologist Stephen Schneider, who has written a new book called Iced: The Story of Organized Crime in Canada.

"The most powerful criminal group in B.C. is probably the Hell's Angels," Schneider said. "They have a lot of ties to the United Nations gang, so they could possibly step in and end the violence."

Born and raised in Richmond, Schneider now teaches criminology at St. Mary's University in Halifax. He went to Steveston secondary. His parents, Werner and Shirley, still live in Richmond.

In an interview with the News, Schneider said organized crime has deep roots in Canada -- largely tied to smuggling -- and is not going to go away.

"If you are going to outlaw certain vices and certain substances that are in high demand -- like cocaine or marijuana -- you're going to have organized crime, and you're going to get violence. And you just have accept this is the reality."

Not that Schneider believes legalizing drugs is necessarily the answer. But neither is what he calls "ad hoc, piecemeal" laws like the Conservative government's new crime bill, which includes minimum sentences for some crimes.

For one thing, punitive measures don't have much of a deterrent on the lower echelon criminals who carry out the grunt work for organized crime, largely due to their upbringing. "It may deter you and me, but it is not going to deter the chronic offender," he said.

The biggest impact of the crime bill may be on prosecutors. "The prosecutorial services are just completely overwhelmed," he said. "By bringing in minimum sentencing, what you've done is create even more work for the prosecutors."

Richmond has been spared the recent spate of gang slayings, although it still has a significant organized crime presence, Schneider said.

The gangs here are largely Asian -- not surprising, given its demographics, he added.

Schneider said he is surprised by all the "hand-wringing" over the recent spate of gang-related shootings in the Lower Mainland.

The public is reacting like this is something new, when in fact gang wars have been erupting in Canada for the last couple of decades, he said. "It was ignored and downplayed by police officials and politicians for years, and now it's caught up to us and sort of bit us on the ass," he said. "Now we're dealing with the aftermath of a lot of neglect."

Schneider said there has been more gangland violence in the last 20 years than any other period in our history.

He blames the recent trend, in part, on a rising "underclass" that has produced a generation of young men coming from poverty and broken homes who are easily drawn into the criminal lifestyle.

He said the few countries that have had success fighting organized crime are countries like Denmark, Sweden and Finland, which have put resources into addressing the root causes of crime. "They're fairly crime-free because they have such a strong social welfare system."

Schneider has studied the roots of organized crime in Canada and found they go back as far as the 17th century, when pirates operated of the Atlantic coast.

The one constant in organized crime here is smuggling.

Canada was the back door for smuggling booze into the U.S. during prohibition. And whereas today B.C. is famous for its marijuana, at the turn of the century B.C. was famous for producing opium.

With three vast coastlines to police, Schneider said Canada simply does not have the resources to stop the smuggling of drugs, or any other contraband, that fuels organized crime.

He concedes there may be some legitimacy to the criticism -- the U.S. being our harshest critics -- that Canadian laws and immigration policies are too lax and help fuel the drug trade that is the bread and butter for organized crime.

"I do believe that the lenient prosecution of marijuana traffickers may help the proliferation of the industry," he said. "But on the converse of that, there's no evidence whatsoever that strong punitive penalties have any impact on organized crime. If that were the case, then China and the United States and Russia would be the most crime-free countries in the world and they're not."

If there is any hope of ending the current gang war in B.C., it may come -- ironically enough -- from organized crime itself. "Quite frankly, law enforcement is quite limited in what they can do," Schneider said.

Gang wars draw a lot of heat, and sometimes prompt the more powerful organized crime leaders to step in because it is bad for business.

In the 1990s, a biker war in Quebec resulted in 160 deaths.

Schneider said it is widely believed that it was Montreal Mafia boss -- Vito Rizzuto -- who stepped in and helped put a stop to the killings. And in the 1980s, Schneider said it is believed some high-powered crime bosses from China intervened in a gang war raging in Vancouver among Asian gangs.

He said the Hell's Angels may well be the organization best position to put a stop to the blood feud going on.

He believes B.C. has been spared the kind of biker wars Quebec has suffered because the Hell's Angels are in control here. "There was never any biker war in B.C. because the Hell's Angels were the only biker gang in town. They controlled everything."

Thanks to Nelson Bennett

Friday, August 11, 2017

Gregory "Bowlegs" Chester, Hobos Gang Leader, Gets 40 years in prison

As the reputed boss of the Hobos super gang, Gregory "Bowlegs" Chester ran a narcotics empire that peddled massive quantities of cocaine, crack and heroin, federal prosecutors said. But it was in his darkest hours, in the moments when Chester's life was threatened by another gang's gunfire or by federal authorities closing in that prosecutors say Chester showed the true measure of his power.

After Chester was shot outside his girlfriend's apartment building, the Hobos went after the rival Black Disciples street gang they believed responsible, according to prosecutors. In September 2007, a team of Hobos tracked down the gang's leader, Antonio "Beans" Bluitt, as he left a funeral home, killing him and a passenger in a car with so many shots that Chicago police ran out of placards to mark the spent shells. A cigar was found still hanging from Bluitt's mouth.

In April 2013, after the feds arrested Chester on heroin distribution charges, Hobos lieutenant Paris Poe cut off an electronic monitoring device and gunned down informant Keith Daniels outside the Dolton apartment where he had been moved by authorities for his safety, according to prosecutors. Dressed in all black and wearing a mask, Poe shot Daniels more than a dozen times in front of his fiancee and two young children, authorities said.

On Thursday, Chester, who was convicted with five other reputed Hobos leaders of racketeering conspiracy charges alleging the gang carried out eight murders over a decade, was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Chester, 40, made a brief statement to the judge, saying, "I want to apologize to the court and my family for my behavior and ask that you please have mercy on me. That's it."

Prosecutors had sought life in prison, calling Chester "unrepentant and a disease to society." But Chester's lawyer, Beau Brindley, argued that while evidence linked his client to the Hobos "enterprise," he wasn't a killer and didn't deserve a life sentence.

In handing down his sentence, U.S. District Judge John Tharp described Chester as the "most influential" Hobo and said he shared culpability in the murders, but the judge drew a distinction between Chester and the triggermen.

Tharp called it a "tragedy" that Chester didn't use his skills, energy, ambition and entrepreneurial spirit to help others better their lives. "He made the choice to use those talents to advance the cause of evil," the judge said.

Later Thursday, Tharp sentenced Stanley "Smiley" Vaughn, another reputed Hobos leader, to 20 years in prison, the maximum possible, for his involvement in two slayings and five attempted murders. Vaughn, 39, was ordered to serve the sentence on top of a nearly 22-year prison term he is already serving for a separate conviction for conspiring to distribute heroin downstate.

"If that is the functional equivalent of a life sentence, he's earned it," the judge said.

Three other reputed Hobos gang leaders — Poe, Arnold Council and Gabriel Bush, who were convicted with Chester and Vaughn — are scheduled to be sentenced.

Following a marathon 15-week trial that ended in January, the jury found that Poe, Council, Bush and Vaughn carried out five murders, some by themselves or with one other. But the jury held those four as well as Chester and William Ford responsible for all eight murders by its guilty verdict on the racketeering conspiracy count.

Prosecutors alleged that the Hobos represented a new breed of gang that was made up of members from various gangs who once were rivals. Many of the Hobos started in the now-demolished Robert Taylor and Ida B. Wells public housing complexes from factions of the Gangster Disciples and the Black Disciples street gangs, according to prosecutors.

Formed after the larger gangs in Chicago began to fracture, prosecutors said, the Hobos were "an elite killing team" that transcended traditional gang rivalries and welcomed people from rival gangs "so long as they demonstrated the necessary willingness for violence and crime."

The Hobos ruled by fear, terrorizing the South and West sides from at least 2004 through 2013, robbing drug dealers of narcotics at gunpoint and instilling fear through violence, including 16 shootings in addition to the eight murders, according to prosecutors.

Using high-powered weapons, the Hobos opened fire on one victim outside a day care, another at a crowded block party. The Hobos went after informants, too, killing one outside a barbershop.

The gang's killings were calculated, well-planned and meant to send a message that its members were "a force to be reckoned with and that they would go to the most extreme lengths for power and money," prosecutors said in a court filing this week.

Not since El Rukn trials two decades ago had so much violence been alleged against a single gang.

Some witnesses at the trial appeared intimidated by the gang's reputation for violence. Several testified only after warnings they would be held in contempt of court. But Mack Mason, a former auto body shop employee, refused to take the stand, saying some of his family still lived in the area that the Hobos operated in. The judge ordered him jailed for 60 days.

Testifying in October, former NBA player Bobby Simmons said he couldn't remember details of the night he claimed he was robbed at gunpoint of a necklace worth more than $100,000 outside the Ice Bar in River North in 2006. It was only after Simmons was confronted with his own grand jury testimony that the Chicago native and former DePaul University star acknowledged Poe had snatched the diamond-studded necklace from his neck, then fired at least 14 shots at his truck as Simmons gave chase across the South Side.

The centerpiece of the case was the alleged murders of two informants who were cooperating with law enforcement against the gang. Jurors heard evidence that Poe and Council fatally shot Wilbert "Big Shorty" Moore outside a South Side barbershop in 2006 because they believed Moore had provided information to police that led to a raid on a Hobos residence.

After prosecutors rested their case in early December, the trial took a dramatic twist when Chester made the unusual decision to testify in his own defense. In three days on the witness stand, Chester admitted to dealing drugs but denied he was the leader of the Hobos and even went as far as to suggest that the gang did not exist.

Chester, who walks with a severe limp due to a childhood bone disease, denied taking part in any shootings or killings and scoffed at the notion that anyone with a disability could be the head of such an allegedly violent enterprise.

He also sought to distance himself from Daniels' killing, saying he had no motive to order the hit even though Daniels' cooperation had led to Chester's arrest on drug charges days earlier. Chester told the jury his mother was good friends with Daniels' mother and that she had already lost another son to violence.

"Keith Daniels is like family to me," Chester testified. "His mother is like my mother. I mean, I felt her pain. I know what she went through, and I wouldn't ever want to see her go through anything like that again."

During a tense cross-examination by prosecutors, Chester's memory grew hazy on many points. The cross-examination nearly derailed when prosecutors asked Chester about an elaborate arm tattoo depicting a pair of eyes — and what appear to be horns — overlooking the now-razed Robert Taylor Homes along with the word "Hobo" and the phrase "The Earth is Our Turf."

Chester testified that the tattoo was a tribute to a slain friend nicknamed Hobo and that the eyes represented God looking down over the public housing projects where they were raised.

Some of the trial's most dramatic testimony came from Daniels' fiancee, Shanice Peatry, who testified she saw a gunman walk up to their car and open fire though the front windshield while she sat with Daniels and their son and daughter, then ages 4 and 6.

Peatry said she instinctively ducked into the back seat to push the kids to the floor while Daniels bailed out of the passenger side and fell to the ground. The gunman took his time, she said, walking over to Daniels and standing over him, pumping round after round into his chest as their children screamed.

"It was so many (shots) I couldn't count," said Peatry, pausing at times in her testimony to shake her head and draw a breath. "It kind of felt like it was in slow motion to me, like he wasn't in no rush."

Before he jumped into a waiting SUV, the assailant walked close enough to Peatry for her to see dreadlocks sticking out from under his mask and peer into his eyes. She knew instantly it was Poe, she said.

Two weeks later, the jury watched a heartbreaking video interview of Daniels' son talking about what he'd witnessed that day. Seated at a low table with colored markers in front of him, the boy fidgeted and kicked his feet as the interviewer coaxed details out of him.

"I was covering my ears because those gunshots was too loud," the boy said. "My sister said, 'Don't get out, Daddy! Don't!' ... My daddy got out and that's when he got shot in the leg. ... He tripped over a rock. He was on the ground and he got shot again."

Thanks to Gregory Pratt.

Without Fear or Favor: A Novel (A Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi Thriller)

In the twenty-ninth novel in the New York Times bestselling Karp-Ciampi series featuring “the best fictional prosecuting attorney in literature” (Mark Lane, #1 New York Times bestselling author), Butch Karp and his wife Marlene Ciampi must stop a radical organization of armed militants bent on the cold-blooded murder of uniformed on-duty police officers.

When a cop shoots down the son of a respected inner-city Baptist preacher, the community rises up in anger and demands to have the officer prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But there’s something more than a call for justice at work here: a plot to bring down the city’s police force through a conspiracy so vast and malicious only Butch Karp and his band of truth-seekers can untangle it.

Full of Tanenbaum’s signature page turning intense action and heart pounding suspense from “one hell of a writer” (New York Post), Without Fear or Favor: A Novel (A Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi Thriller), will keep you guessing until the final scene.