Crime and Courts

Suspected members of Venezuelan gang Tren de Aragua believed to be connected to criminal cases in Illinois and Indiana

Tren de Aragua is the largest criminal organization in Venezuela with more than 5,000 members.

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Members of a violent Venezuelan gang know as Tren de Aragua have made their way to the United States and are believed to be linked to criminal cases in five states, including Illinois and Indiana, local law enforcement officials told NBC News.

Authorities confirmed to NBC News they’re investigating more than 100 criminal cases connected to suspected members of Tren de Aragua, and NBC Chicago confirmed at least two members have been arrested in Cook County for narcotics and weapons related charges.

Tren de Aragua is the largest criminal organization in Venezuela with more than 5,000 members.

Edwin Camejo was accused of selling cocaine to an undercover officer several times at the end of 2023, NBC Chicago learned. Court records show that as of February 2024 his case was closed.

"I think that just a bird's-eyes view of the situation would indicate that perhaps he's cooperating with the authorities, and I'm saying this because they had a lot of very strong evidence against this individual," said attorney Salvador Cicero.

Cicero, a former advisor for Organization of American States on organized crime, is providing an outside look at the case and weighed in on the vetting process at the border.

"If Venezuela is unwilling to share with the United States their information or their database on criminals as well, it's difficult for U.S. authorities to easily identify people — ghost criminals," Cicero said.  

Despite the lack of cooperation from Venezuela, the Department of Homeland Security told NBC News every individual is screened and vetted and they can check other available sources and data for criminal history.

"I think there's a clear intent on the Venezuelan government's part because there's been other incidents with other countries involving Venezuela and the use of this band for political purpose," he said. "Some may even say it's an arm of the Venezuela government. We don't have those details, but we do know that in the U.S. [Tren de Aragua] are operating and the authorities are attempting to deal with it — how successful, we shall see."

The Chicago Police Department did not respond to our request for a comment.

The Cook County State's Attorney issued a statement when asked why charges were dropped against Camejo.

"After a review, we concluded that the available evidence was insufficient to meet our burden of proof to move forward with the prosecution of this case," the statement read.

A spokesperson for Homeland Security Investigations told NBC Chicago in a statement: "HSI Chicago is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to combat emerging threats and trends wherever we encounter them, including those involving transnational criminal organizations (TCOs)."

The statement continued: "HSI Chicago is aware of recent violent crime arrests involving individuals allegedly associated with the Tren de Aragua gang and continues to monitor emerging trends and assist partner law enforcement agencies. Any person with information related to TCO activity can submit an anonymous report by calling the HSI tip-line at 877-4-HSI-TIP."

In Chicago, the Little Village Community Council has been working to provide assistance to new arrivals, such as clothing, but also to educate them about the inner workings of the city.

"The city of Chicago is one of the most segregated cities and also neighborhoods that they might think they're safe, but they're really not,” Baltazar Enriquez said.

The director told NBC Chicago they have been holding workshops on a rolling basis letting new asylum seekers know about the different gangs in the city and their culture.

"We're easily educating them and integrating them in the community and letting them know the dos and don'ts; what colors not to wear; when you wear a hat, you tilt it to the right to the left—that could cost you your life," Enriquez explained.

They've also fielded questions about the emergence of Tren de Aragua.

"We have been told that certain members of Tren de Aragua have done certain crimes in the neighborhood, but we can't say if it's really them," he said.

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