The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday released a wide-ranging indictment charging 12 people with conspiring to violate federal firearms statues and traffic illegally-obtained guns across state lines and into the city of Chicago.
At a news briefing, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced nine new defendants linked to the case of three U.S. Army soldiers from Fort Campbell who last year were indicted in connection with the straw purchases of dozens of weapons. Nine of those named in the indictment are all members of a faction of Chicago's Gangster Disciples street gang.
The case is part of the Justice Department’s push to investigate and prosecute gun trafficking amid rising crime across the Garland has vowed to prioritize prosecutions of firearms traffickers and so-called “straw purchasers,” who legally purchase firearms to sell them to people who can’t legally possess guns, often in states with more restrictive gun laws.
“The Justice Department will spare no resources to hold accountable criminal gun traffickers,” Garland said at a news conference Friday. “There is no hiding place for those who flood our communities with illegal guns. It does not matter where you are, or how far away you are. If you illegally traffic guns, we and our law enforcement partners nationwide will find you.”
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According to the indictment, between December 2020 and April 2021, members of the Pocket Town Gangster Disciples conspired to purchase and deliver firearms to the Chicago area to facilitate the on-going violent disputes between their gang and rivals.
Speaking at a press conference, authorities explained a March 2021 shooting that killed one person and injured seven others in Chicago's Wrightwood neighborhood led investigators to the massive operation.
Federal agents traced the weapons found at the scene of the shooting, and five of the guns were determined to have been purchased in the Clarksville, Tennessee, area, said Kristen de Tineo, Special Agent in Charge at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Chicago.
Federal authorities said the suspects used text messages to coordinate the purchase and delivery of firearms to the Chicago area, provided false information on firearms purchase application forms and used apps such as Zelle and CashApp to facilitate payment for the illegal transfer of weapons.
If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in prison on one or more counts.
Through the investigation, dozens of weapons were identified through the ATF's Gun Tracing Center.
"Cases like this have a tremendous impact, not only on the defendants who are charged, but on gang members in Chicago and across the country," said John Lausch, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. "What they see is that they will be held accountable for their efforts that are used to fuel the senseless gun violence that plagues the many cities in our country, including Chicago."