CHICAGO (CBS) -- Federal prosecutors have announced charges against 24 people as part of an investigation targeting two West Side street gangs accused of trafficking "wholesale quantities of heroin and cocaine."
"Operation Wicked Stones" -- part of a larger probe dubbed "Operation Full Circle," a joint federal, state, and local investigation -- targeted the Wicked Town faction of the Traveling Vice Lords and the Black P-Stone Nation street gangs, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago.
Prosecutors said the investigation led to the seizure of 34 guns, more than 6.7 kilograms of heroin, more than 17 kilograms of cocaine, more than a kilogram of fentanyl, 200 pounds of marijuana, approximately 50 grams of crack cocaine, and more than $1.3 million in cash and jewelry purchased with drug money.
Indictments unsealed in federal court in Chicago on Friday charge the defendants with gun and drug offenses, and money laundering. Federal prosecutors also said that murder-for-hire charges filed against three men last year were part of this investigation.
In one indictment, seven men are accused of distributing "wholesale quantities of heroin and cocaine on the West Side," largely in the Austin neighborhood. James Harris, 51; Patrick Turner, 52; Gregory Hopkins, 50; Larnell Pillow, 51; Rickey Griffin, 51; Eric Berger, 53; and Reginald Richmond, 29, all face drug trafficking charges.
U.S. Attorney Jon Lausch said the two primary locations where the drug operations were set up were the 5900 block of West Ohio Street, and the 600 block of North Lotus Avenue.
Lausch said, while authorities can't quantify what impact the drug case will have on the Austin neighborhood, "for these people on these particular blocks, we hope it makes a significant impact, so that there's not drug dealing that's happening in the neighborhood, there's not individuals carrying guns on a regular basis there."
Federal prosecutors said three other defendants -- Deshawn Morgan, 37; Darius Murphy, 20; and Demond Brown, 26 -- were charged last August in a murder-for-hire plot. Those charges were part of the same drug investigation. Morgan is accused of hiring Brown and Murphy to kill Donald Holmes Jr. in the fall of 2017, because Morgan suspected Holmes, a fellow Vice Lords gang member, was cooperating with law enforcement.
Brown and Murphy are accused of luring Holmes to a meeting on the West Side in January 2018, and killing him and his girlfriend, Diane Taylor, 31, when they arrived.
Morgan, Murphy, and Brown are in federal custody, awaiting trial.
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said the gang factions targeted by the investigation are believed to be responsible for 30 murders over the last nine years.
"That's families that have lost their loved ones. That's 30 funerals. That's hearts broken. That's many cries, and many tears, and these acts of violence go beyond impacting a single family. They impact friends and neighborhoods. No one feels safe after someone they know is taken from them with a bullet," Brown said.
The superintendent said the West Side has been "terrorized by gangs, guns, and drugs" that operate in Austin and other surrounding neighborhoods.
"None of this is fair to the good people that live in these communities on the West Side Of Chicago, and those responsible for bringing this level of destruction to a neighborhood need to be held accountable," he said.
Also facing charges in the investigation:
- Donald Lee, 47, charged with drug and gun offenses;
- Jamar Spencer, 34, charged with gun offenses;
- Terrence Jenkins, 52, charged with gun offenses;
- Creavon Curry, 25, charged with drug and gun offenses;
- Larry Jones, 39, charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin;
- Marsha Fountain, 48, charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin;
- Enrique Fuentes-Ortiz, 45, charged with gun and drug offenses;
- Deshon George, 26, charged with gun offenses;
- Dante Dockett, 42, charged with gun offenses;
- Derrius Burns, 27, charged with gun offenses;
- Daniel Cerpa, 41, charged with fentanyl and heroin trafficking;
- Wilfredo Gomez, 48, charged with fentanyl and heroin trafficking;
- Marshawn Ranson, 40, charged with fentanyl trafficking and money laundering;
- Jesse Ochoa, 38, charged with drug offenses.
Lausch said most of the defendants in the investigation had their initial court hearing earlier this week, and will appear for detention hearings next week. He said federal prosecutors will seek to have most of the defendants held in custody until trial.
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