Sentences were handed down in a federal courtroom in Hammond, Ind., just miles from a leafy suburban neighborhood which was home to a fellow gang member who helped lead the Latin Kings in Chicago by day, then cheered on his children in suburban Little League games at night. Chris Coffey reports.
Two members of Chicago’s Latin Kings street gang were sentenced Thursday to a combined 45 years in federal prison for drug dealing and racketeering.
Their sentences were handed down in a federal courtroom in Hammond, Ind., just miles from a leafy suburban neighborhood which was home to a fellow gang member who helped lead the Latin Kings in Chicago by day, then cheered on his children in suburban Little League games at night.
It's a further example that gang crime does not stop at Chicago’s borders and can even reach into the bucolic suburbs and small towns that few would ever associate with gangland drug deals and murders.
The two gang members sentenced Thursday -- Sisto Bernal and Santiago Gudino -- were originally indicted by federal prosecutors in late 2011 as part of a sweeping, detailed indictment alleging years of crimes, including murders, drug deals and burglaries, committed by 21 members of the Latin Kings. During that time, authorities in both Chicago and northwest Indiana combined efforts to take approximately forty gang members off the streets.
According to the indictment, Bernal hired two Chicago police officers to hand over drugs, guns and cash to gang members. The officers served as enforcers and were often in uniform to perform various robberies, burglaries and auto stops.
The Latin Kings indictment included accounts of 12 homicides in Chicago, six in Indiana and two in Texas.
Another top ranking Latin Kings member, Alexander Vargas, has already pled guilty to racketeering, drug conspiracy and murder charges. He has yet to be sentenced.
Prosecutors said Vargas was in charge of the gang’s southeast region, including the south side of Chicago and northwest Indiana. David Capp, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, said Vargas led two lives that stretched across state lines. He lived in a house in suburban Highland..
"Part of our evidence was that while he was -- during the day -- engaging in criminal affairs with the Latin Kings in Chicago, in the evening he’d return to one of our suburban communities to attend Little League games," Capp said.
Federal officials say violent gang crime is a regional issue, and they are continuing their hunt for gang members.
"There’s a constant pressure into the neighboring communities,' Capp said. "If there’s any member of a criminal organization in northwest Indiana or south Chicago continuing to operate, we’re going to get you. It’s that simple."
Capp said the crime rate dropped dramatically after the federal crackdown on regional gangs.
"Once we made all these arrests and got these individuals off the street, the homicide rate -- for instance up in East Chicago -- dropped down to like one or two,' Capp said.