Sunday, July 20, 2014

Details on State's Attorney Alvarez #OperationCrewCut Announcement of Charges in Rackeetering Operation including Drug Trafficking, Home Invasions and Kidnapping

Five people have been charged with Super Class X felonies in connection with a proactive state racketeering investigation targeting members of an organized crime street crew that engaged in a wide array of criminal activity including drug trafficking, home invasions and kidnapping, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced.

Cook County prosecutors announced RICO and other related charges against the defendants who are associated with a sophisticated and high tech criminal enterprise that operated in the Chicago area for years. The criminal complaints against the defendants were filed in Cook County Criminal Court today.  The case marks the second state RICO prosecution by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office since the Illinois Street Gang RICO law was passed in 2012.

Three men have been charged with the Super Class X felony offenses of Racketeering Conspiracy and Criminal Drug Conspiracy, including Robert Panozzo, age 54, and Paul Koroluk, age 55, as well as Maher Abuhabsah, age 33.  Panozzo’s son, Robert Jr, age 22, was charged with Criminal Drug Conspiracy, and Koroluk’s wife, Maria Koroluk, age 53, was charged with Possession with Intent to Deliver a Super Class X amount of cocaine as a result of this investigation.

After the bond hearing, State’s Attorney Alvarez noted that, like the prior RICO case brought by her office against the violent Black Souls Street Gang, her investigation was triggered when a criminal enterprise plotted to kill a witness, saying that “in both matters, organized crime sought to attack the criminal justice system itself, and now, armed with a proper state RICO statute, my office can fight back effectively and hold the right offenders accountable for their crimes.”

 “The completion of this second proactive investigation is yet another example of the vital importance that our Illinois RICO law now plays in our ability to combat violent organized crime in the state of Illinois, and I am pleased to work in collaboration with our law enforcement partners at the local and federal level once again, and use this critical tool to send a strong and lasting message to criminals who plague our communities with violence and crime,” Alvarez said.

“Operation Crew Cut” was a 10-month long-term covert investigation, which targeted members of the Panozzo-Koroluk street crew (P-K street crew), who at times posed as police officers to rob drug cartel stash houses for illegal contraband including drugs and cash proceeds.  The ongoing pattern of criminal activity included home invasions, robberies, kidnapping and insurance fraud among other offenses.  The joint state-federal investigation included the use of advanced law enforcement tools such as court-ordered electronic surveillance, consensual overhears, tracking orders, and search warrants of cell phones and email accounts.

According to prosecutors, the investigation began in October 2013 after law enforcement authorities developed evidence that a member of the P-K street crew attempted to solicit the murder of a state witness who was set to testify against members of the P-K street crew in a pending home invasion and kidnapping case.  Specifically, investigators discovered that Robert Panozzo Sr., along with other individuals, solicited another individual to kill the victim on that case to prevent them from testifying at the trial.

Based on that information, prosecutors, along with other law enforcement agencies began the proactive racketeering investigation into the illegal activities of the close-knit P-K street crew.  The investigation revealed evidence that the crew engaged in a wide array of crimes including drug trafficking, murder, home invasion, armed violence, burglary and weapons offenses.  As the investigation progressed, it became clear that the scope of the crimes committed by members of the P-K crew were quite substantial and violent.

The investigation also revealed that the members of the P-K street crew routinely obtained information from Chicago street gang members to determine the location and contents of drug cartel stash houses.  The P-K street crew members would then utilize high tech equipment, such as video surveillance and GPS trackers placed on the cars of drug dealers, to determine the location of the stash house.  Once the location was obtained, P-K street crew members would then enter the houses, posing as police officers and steal large quantities of contraband including drugs and other items.  

According to court documents, during the course of one home invasion and kidnapping in 2013, Panozzo sliced off the ear of a victim at the location after Panozzo heard the man speaking English after claiming he only spoke Spanish.  During this particular incident, the P-K street crew stole over 25 kilograms of cocaine and two cars.

The defendants in this case were arrested on July 16, 2014 after Panozzo, Koroluk, Abuhabsah and Panozzo Jr, attempted to steal approximately 44 kilograms of cocaine stored at what they believed was a drug dealer’s stash house.  Unbeknownst to the defendants, however, law enforcement authorities had obtained court authorization to rig the house with audio and surveillance equipment as part of a covert sting operation.  The defendants entered the home and took possession of cocaine, and shortly after emerging from the location, the men were arrested by police who were monitoring the operation.

The  “Street Gang Rico” bill written by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and passed by the state legislature in 2012, allows  prosecutors at the state level to target gang and organized crime enterprises who engage in a pattern of crimes involving violence such as illegal weapons, sex-offenses, drug trafficking and other offenses.

The investigation was conducted by the State’s Attorney’s Office in cooperation with the Chicago Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the United States Attorney’s Office.

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