A high-ranking leader of the Traveling Vice Lords street gang who directed a violent west side drug-trafficking conspiracy was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison after a judge ruled that he “very likely” murdered an off-duty Chicago police detective and a woman in August 2008.
“Your drug trafficking activities were a scourge on your community,” Judge Lefkow said.
The judge also ruled that the government met its burden in proving by a preponderance of evidence that it was “very likely” that Austin committed the murders of Det. Robert Soto and Kathryn Romberg on Aug. 13, 2008, and then subsequently attempted to obstruct the murder investigation. The victims were shot as they sat in a parked car in the 3000 block of West Franklin, about three blocks east Kedzie and one block south of Ohio. During a sentencing hearing that began last month, the government presented evidence that Austin shot and killed the pair after mistaking them from for a rival drug dealer and the drug dealer’s companion.
“We are gratified that the Court found Austin responsible for the murders of Detective Soto and Ms. Romberg. Jason Austin is a violent drug dealer, and today’s 35-year sentence provides a modest measure of justice,” said Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
“Jason Austin sold heroin and crack cocaine in the area of Kedzie and Ohio for years. He ran the block, had employees who worked for him, and he sold thousands of dollars of heroin a day. Austin controlled his territory through fear, violence, and threats of violence. He kept guns at the ready to stave off the competition. Austin thought of Kedzie and Ohio as his,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Maribel Fernandez-Harvath and Matthew Madden argued in seeking a significant sentence.
Austin and 30 other members and associates of the Traveling Vice Lords were arrested in November 2010 as part of Operation Blue Knight, which focused on around-the-clock retail street sales of crack cocaine and heroin in the area of Kedzie and Ohio, known as “KO.” Significant amounts of crack cocaine and heroin were seized during the two-year investigation, which the Chicago Police Department’s Organized Crime Division began in 2008 and the Federal Bureau of Investigation joined several months later. Overall, their efforts resulted in a total of 104 defendants being arrested on state and federal charges in this and related investigations.
The evidence at trial showed that Austin conspired with others to distribute heroin to customers via hand-to-hand transactions in the “KO.” The heroin, named “Blue Magic,” alone accounted for as much as $8,000 a day in sales, between approximately 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., seven days a week. During the investigation, law enforcement officers repeatedly observed the conduct of co-conspirators at KO. Surveillance, often video recorded, documented hand-to-hand drug transactions, controlled purchases of narcotics by undercover Chicago police officers, and controlled purchases of narcotics by confidential sources.
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