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Mayor Lightfoot Presents Plan Under Which City Would Sue Street Gangs, But Will It Work?

CHICAGO (CBS)-- More controversy was stirring late Tuesday about a Chicago city ordinance that would allow the city to file lawsuits against street gangs – seeking money and other assets.

"We will hold you accountable," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday in announcing the proposal.

The plan would allow for city's lawyers to file the lawsuits. A judge could order the forfeiture or money or property that is directly or indirectly related to street gang activity.

Mayor Lightfoot has pitched the plan as a vital tool in the fight against gun violence in Chicago. CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey on Tuesday looked into the question of whether such an effort would really work.

These types of gang lawsuits are not unheard of. They have been used at the federal level and for several years in Kane and DuPage counties.

But legal experts worry that in Chicago, such lawsuits would be futile.

"In federal court, you're dealing with organized street gangs - in many cases involving individuals that are in their 30s, sometimes even in their 40s - that are moving large amounts of drugs," said Eric H. Sussman of Reed Smith LLP, a former federal prosecutor.

Sussman said these types of gang lawsuits have been successful in his experience in federal court. But he said the gangs that would be targeted in Chicago — "approximately 100 street gang factions," according to the proposed ordinance filed on Tuesday – are different.

"In state court, most of these 15- and 16-year-olds they can't even identify aren't even subject to adult criminal prosecution," Sussman said.

Attorney John Mauck of the firm Mauck & Baker is very familiar with gang lawsuits in Kane County.

"Most of the lawsuits were ended by default judgments," he said. "Either they didn't serve the individuals, or the individuals didn't bother to come to court."

Mauck represents four individuals who were sued in Kane County, but that lawsuit was dropped in 2018 over issues proving they were actually members of the gang.

Mauck said that to his knowledge, government agencies in Kane County have never recovered a dime from any gang members. And he thinks that will also be the case in Chicago.

"They'll sue a bunch of gang members and get some judgments and say, 'Look what we've done,' but it won't accomplish anything," Mauck said. "It's for show."

But Elgin's police chief said there were some positive benefits as a result of three gang lawsuits between 2010 and 2016.

"The department noted a significant reduction in street gang activity during this time," Chief Ana Lalley said in a statement in part.

On Tuesday, Mayor Lightfoot said gang members are able to thrive by "flaunting a lavish lifestyle of cars jewelry and guns."

"To be very blunt and clear, we are going after their blood money – the money they have profited off killing," Mayor Lightfoot said.

Sussman and Mauck are still skeptical.

Hickey: "Does this feel like a political move to you?"

Sussman: "I think this is clearly a political move in it, and their response to the fact that the city had been unable to articulate a policy to prevent the shootings in the killings that are going on in the city."

The ordinance will now go to the City Council Rules Committee and will be reviewed on Friday. Lightfoot said she hope it will be reviewed quickly and sent to the Public Safety Committee.

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