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As Carjackings Skyrocket In Chicago, Federal Authorities Are Stepping In

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Since the beginning of the year, there have been more than 150 carjackings in Chicago – amounting to five a day.

Is federal pressure the answer?

As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, both Chicago's top federal prosecutor and Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI have a message for would-be carjackers.

A federal grand jury on Wednesday handed down an indictment on carjacking and firearm charges against Jaheim Henyard, 19, who is accused of carjacking drivers in Chicago and Cicero and trying to steal a car in Oak Park.

Prosecutors said Henyard carjacked a Dodge Charger from an Uber Eats driver in Chicago on Aug. 14 of last year and also carjacked a Kia Optima Hybrid LX in Cicero six days later. He also tried to carjack the driver of a Mercedes GLC 300 at gunpoint in Oak Park on July 17 of last year, but was not successful, prosecutors said.

Henyard is also accused with two other defendants – Darius Young and Xavier Tate – in participating in the robbery of a UPS truck in Oak Park on Aug. 21 of last year. Prosecutors said the UPS driver was ordered to lie face down in the street while the robbers stole boxes from the truck and drove off.

As those arrests were announced, Hickey spoke exclusively to Northern District of Illinois U.S. Attorney John Lausch and Chicago FBI Special-Agent-in-Charge Emmerson Buie – as they lay out their plan to help curb the carjacking surge.

They both have a message for would-be carjackers. That message is if someone gets caught carjacking, they are going to be pushing harder than ever to make it a federal case.

Also, the officials said, someone who gets caught trying to get a kid to do the carjacking for them will earn themselves hard time in a federal prison.

Cell phone video captured the robbery of that UPS truck in Oak Park back in August. The federal charges against the three men came thanks in part to the video.

Lausch said to expect more.

Hickey: "Are you guys trying to go after more cases federally?"

Lausch: "We are. I think it's pretty clear to say that we've seen kind of a level of brazenness from 2020 into this year that, you know, we really haven't seen in the past in the same way."

Both Lausch and Buie spoke to Hickey on Wednesday morning - hours after an off-duty Chicago Police officer was one of three more carjacking victims in the city overnight.

The officer was carjacked in North Kenwood near 44th Street and Oakenwald Avenue around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. She was getting out of her car when four men with guns exited a red vehicle and took off in her car.

Offenders also took the officer's phone and purse. A source tells CBS 2 the officer's gun and star were also taken.

A food delivery driver was also pushed to the ground and carjacked around 10 p.m. Tuesday near Washington Boulevard and Peoria Street in the West Loop. At 8:30 p.m., a man was carjacked at gunpoint in the 1500 block of West Granville Avenue in Edgewater, near Stephen K. Hayt Elementary School.

Lausch and Buie said charging federally is tricky. There is a high bar to identify the suspect.

"Fingerprints, DNA - a whole host of things," Lausch said.

Thus, Buie said the FBI is assigning more agents to the crimes.

"Carjackings are crimes of opportunity," he said.

Federal carjacking cases have been few and far between over the last few years. But data obtained by the CBS 2 Investigators show they're picking up.

There were two cases charged in all of 2020 - the same number of cases charged just this month.

More than half of the CPD's carjacking arrests last year were kids under the age of 18, and it is difficult to go after juveniles in federal court.

Hickey: "In your time as U.S. Attorney, you've never charged juvenile?"

Lausch: "Yeah, I can't think of any juvenile cases that we've charged since I've been the U.S. Attorney, and in fact, I can't think of any in recent memory, even before my time."

But the feds can go after adults who enlist juveniles to carjack vehicles for them, and Buie said that is exactly what they're planning to do.

"We're going to go after you as a conspirator," Buie said.

One of the three men now charged federally is considered an armed habitual offender in the Cook County Court system. The carjacking and attempted carjacking counts are each punishable by up to 15 years in federal prison.

As to why more cases are not charged federally, a lot of cases involve other crimes that would actually result in stiffer penalties in state court. If someone died during the carjacking, for example, the case would be handled in state court.

Other carjacking-related cases might end up being charged as a robbery or a firearms case.

An interactive map at this link shows the change in the number of carjackings in Chicago neighborhoods between 2019 and 2020.

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