The Chicago Syndicate

Friday, January 29, 2021

Strongmen - Mussolini to the Present, by Expert Author Ruth Ben-Ghiat @RuthBenGhiat

What modern authoritarian leaders have in common (and how they can be stopped).

Ruth Ben-Ghiat is the expert on the "strongman" playbook employed by authoritarian demagogues from Mussolini to Putin—enabling her to predict with uncanny accuracy the recent experience in America. In Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, she lays bare the blueprint these leaders have followed over the past 100 years, and empowers us to recognize, resist, and prevent their disastrous rule in the future.

For ours is the age of authoritarian rulers: self-proclaimed saviors of the nation who evade accountability while robbing their people of truth, treasure, and the protections of democracy. They promise law and order, then legitimize lawbreaking by financial, sexual, and other predators.

They use masculinity as a symbol of strength and a political weapon. Taking what you want, and getting away with it, becomes proof of male authority. They use propaganda, corruption, and violence to stay in power.

Vladimir Putin and Mobutu Sese Seko’s kleptocracies, Augusto Pinochet’s torture sites, Benito Mussolini and Muammar Gaddafi’s systems of sexual exploitation, and Silvio Berlusconi and Donald Trump’s relentless misinformation: all show how authoritarian rule, far from ensuring stability, is marked by destructive chaos.

No other type of leader is so transparent about prioritizing self-interest over the public good. As one country after another has discovered, the strongman is at his worst when true guidance is most needed by his country.

Recounting the acts of solidarity and dignity that have undone strongmen over the past 100 years, Ben-Ghiat makes vividly clear that only by seeing the strongman for what he is—and by valuing one another as he is unable to do—can we stop him, now and in the future.


Thursday, January 28, 2021

Did Larry Hoover Promote 2 Gangster Disciples to Board Members?

Imprisoned Gangster Disciples founder Larry Hoover, who says he’s no longer involved with the gang and is asking for an early release from his life sentence, promoted two men to top posts in the gang while locked up in a federal “super-max” prison in Colorado, according to an indictment unsealed Monday in East St. Louis.

The indictment says the two men threatened to kill anyone who challenged their authority and, on May 18, 2018, shot and killed a rival Gangster Disciples board member on the South Side of Chicago.

Hoover — whom prosecutors have called “the most notorious gang leader in Chicago’s modern history” — isn’t charged in the indictment, which targets leaders of the Gangster Disciples in downstate Illinois and eastern Missouri in a racketeering case that includes two murders.

Hoover has asked a federal judge in Chicago to reduce his life sentence under a reform measure called the federal First Step Act, which allows people convicted of crack-cocaine offenses to challenge their sentences in light of subsequent changes in federal sentencing guidelines. Other high-ranking members of the gang have been released from prison under the same law. But U.S. Attorney John Lausch urged U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber last year to keep Hoover in federal prison for the rest of his life. The judge hasn’t ruled.

If Leinenweber decides Hoover has served enough time in federal prison under the life term he was handed in 1997 for running a criminal enterprise, Hoover still faces a 200-year Illinois state court sentence from 1973 for ordering the killing of a gang member he suspected was stealing from him.

Hoover attorney Justin Moore said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of the new indictment and questioned the idea that Hoover could have been involved in gang affairs from behind bars. “It seems almost impossible that he would be able to communicate that to anyone if he were trying to,” he said.

Moore questioned why prosecutors — who previously have said they suspected Hoover was still involved in the gang — hadn’t brought up the latest accusation during arguments over Hoover’s bid for a reduced sentence. “This is a 70-year-old man in the twilight of his years who has serious medical complications and is seeking release to finally be with his wife, children and grandchildren after nearly 50 years of separation,” Moore said. “To have his name continuously thrown into the affairs of others and to be used as a scapegoat for criminal activity he has no connection to needs to cease.”

The new indictment says one member of the gang, Anthony Dobbins, told another, Warren “Big Head” Griffin, in September 2014 that Hoover had appointed them as “board members” — the highest rank in the gang’s leadership.

It also says Dobbins, 53, who’s from downstate Troy, a suburb of St. Louis, and Griffin, 51, from Lancaster, Kentucky, threatened to kill anyone who resisted their authority, though it doesn’t say how authorities got that information.

On May 18, 2018, Dobbins and Griffin shot and killed Earnest “Don Smokey” Wilson, 65, a rival Gangster Disciples board member, in the 7100 block of South Euclid Avenue in Chicago, according to the East St. Louis indictment.

Dobbins and Griffin were arrested later in 2018, Dobbins for drug possession and Griffin in a separate case for illegal possession of a gun.

Dobbins is being held in the same prison where Hoover is being held, the federal super-max in Florence, Colorado, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Griffin is in a federal prison in Kentucky.

According to the Chicago police, the Gangster Disciples and other big Chicago gangs have, over the past two decades, fragmented into factions that aren’t controlled at the top the way they used to be. About 900 gang factions operate in Chicago today, police say. But recent indictments against Gangster Disciples members downstate and in Atlanta suggest that the corporate structure of the gang has remained in place.

Thanks to Frank Main and Jon Seidel.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Latin King Enforcer Matthew Palacios, Sentenced for Racketeering #KingNene #Boston #OCDETF

The former Enforcer of the Boston-based Devon Street Kings Chapter of the Massachusetts Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation (“Latin Kings”) was sentenced on racketeering charges.

Matthew Palacios, a/k/a “King Nene,” 26, was sentenced by U.S. Senior District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel to 33 months in prison and three years of supervised release. In September 2020, Palacios pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO conspiracy.

The Latin Kings are a violent criminal enterprise comprised of thousands of members across the United States. The Latin Kings adhere to a national manifesto, employ an internal judiciary and use a sophisticated system of communication to maintain the hierarchy of the organization. As alleged in court documents, the gang uses drug distribution to generate revenue, and engages in violence against witnesses and rival gangs to further its influence and to protect its turf.

Named for its origin on Devon Street in Boston, the Devon Street Kings or D5K Chapter of the Latin Kings, included approximately a dozen members. As Enforcer, Palacios was responsible for ensuring discipline, meting out punishment to members for violating the rules of the gang and organizing violence against rival gang members and those believed to be cooperating with law enforcement. The Devon Street Kings, in turn, reported to the Massachusetts State Leadership of the Latin Kings, providing information, structure, funds and other resources to further the Latin Kings goals and directives in the state. During the investigation, various meetings were covertly recorded in which Palacios and members of the Devon Street Kings discussed the business of the racketeering enterprise. Palacios was present during meetings where members were beaten and violence against rival gangs was discussed and decided upon.

In December 2019, a federal grand jury returned an indictment alleging racketeering conspiracy, drug conspiracy and firearms charges against 62 leaders, members and associates of the Latin Kings. Palacios is the 11th defendant to be sentenced in the case.

The remaining defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.


Wednesday, December 02, 2020

The DOJ, @TheJusticeDep, is Investigating a Bribery Conspiracy to Buy a Presidential Pardon

U.S. prosecutors are investigating whether several individuals offered political contributions in exchange for a presidential pardon, according to an unsealed court document.

The names of the people under investigation were blacked out in the document.

The disclosure of an alleged attempt to purchase a pardon comes as Donald Trump’s presidential term winds to an end, traditionally a time when pardons are meted out. Trump’s prior pardons have stirred controversy, including his decision to grant them to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Last week, Trump announced that he was pardoning former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

The partially redacted opinion unsealed on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in Washington said the Justice Department was investigating a “bribery conspiracy” in which an unidentified person would “offer a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence.”

The Justice Department was also investigating whether two unnamed individuals had acted as lobbyists to White House officials without complying with registration requirements, Howell, the court’s chief judge, wrote.

The opinion, dated Aug. 28, was in response to a government request to review attorney-client communications related to the probe. The judge wrote that the scheme involved “intermediaries to deliver the proposed bribe,” and noted that the government hoped to present the evidence it had gathered to three unnamed individuals, at least one of whom is a lawyer.

Howell’s opinion provides few other details about the possible bribery scheme, and no one appears to have been charged as part of the investigation. But, according to the opinion, the person seeking a pardon surrendered to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons, suggesting that person has already been convicted of a crime.

“The $10,000 question is — who is it?,” said former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers. “Is it someone who would be in a position to implicate the president in anything?”

She said she didn’t think that was necessarily the case because President Donald Trump has proven himself eager to help out the people closest to him — or those who pose a possible threat — so no bribe would be necessary.

No government official was or is currently a subject or target of the investigation disclosed in the court filing, a Justice Department official said.

The origins of the probe appear to lie in a separate investigation that the Justice Department was pursuing before it unearthed evidence of bribery.

Using search warrants issued in that separate inquiry, the government seized more than 50 “digital media devices,” including iPhones, iPads, laptops, thumb drives and computer and external hard drives, according to Howell’s opinion. Emails recorded on those devices provided evidence of the bribery scheme, the judge said.

The government asked Howell to allow investigators to access communications that might be shielded from scrutiny by attorney-client privilege. In the unsealed opinion, Howell agreed to allow the government to examine those communications, ruling that the documents at issue are “not protected by the attorney-client or any other privilege.”

“This political strategy to obtain a presidential pardon was ‘parallel’ to and distinct from [redacted’s] role as an attorney-advocate for [redacted],” the judge wrote.

Offering pardons for campaign contributions would be a crime, said Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor in New York. “While the presidential pardon power is absolute, selling pardons is prohibited by federal bribery law,” Sandick said in an interview. “This investigation may well linger into the next administration.”

Trump has pardoned or commuted the sentences of 45 people since taking office, fewer than his predecessors.

Since the election, lawyers and lobbyists across the country have mobilized on behalf of a wide range of clients to secure pardons. On Nov. 25, Trump pardoned Flynn, who has twice pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. Many more pardons are expected in the coming weeks. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani discussed with him as recently as last week the possibility of receiving a pre-emptive pardon before Trump leaves office.

Thanks to David Yaffe-Bellany and Erik Larson with Chris Strohm.

Monday, November 30, 2020

‘Tis the Season for Organized Crime Online Holiday Shopping Scams #CyberMonday

With the holiday shopping season underway, criminals are also gearing up to do a little ‘shopping’ of their own. The FBI reminds you to look out for scams designed to steal your money and personal information, especially while shopping online.

When shopping online, make sure a site is secure and reputable before providing your credit card number. Don’t trust a site just because it claims to be secure. Beware of purchases or services that require you to pay with a gift card.

If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers often scheme to defraud consumers by offering too-good-to-be-true deals via phishing emails or advertisements. Such schemes may offer brand name merchandise at extremely low discounts or promise gift cards as an incentive to purchase a product. Other sites may offer products at a great price, but the products being sold are not the same as the products advertised.

Steer clear of suspicious sites, phishing emails, or ads offering items at unrealistic discounts. You may end up paying for an item, giving away personal information and credit card details, and receive nothing in return except a compromised identity. Bottom line, do not open any unsolicited emails and do not click on any links attached.

Beware of posts on social media sites that appear to offer vouchers or gift cards, especially deals that are too good to be true, such as free gift cards. Some may pose as holiday promotions or contests. It may even appear one of your friends shared the link with you. Often, these scams lead you to participate in an online survey that is actually designed to steal personal information.

Be careful if someone asks you to purchase gift cards for them. In these scams, the victims received either a spoofed email, a spoofed phone call, or a spoofed text from a person in authority requesting the victim purchase multiple gift cards for either personal or business reasons. The gift cards are then used to facilitate the purchase of goods and services, which may or may not be legitimate.

Protect yourself. Secure your banking and credit accounts with strong and different passwords, as well as all your other accounts that contain anything of value, such as: rewards accounts, online accounts that save your payment information, or accounts containing your private, personal information.

Check your credit card and bank statements regularly to make sure no fraudulent charges have been made to your account.

If you suspect you’ve been victimized:

  • Contact your financial institution immediately upon suspecting or discovering a fraudulent transfer. 
  • Request that your bank reach out to the financial institution where the fraudulent transfer was sent. 
  • Contact law enforcement. 
  • File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.IC3.gov, regardless of dollar loss.


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