New `RICO` law leads to street gang arrests

New `RICO` law leads to street gang arrests

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The feds call it the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO. For decades, it's been used to prosecute leaders of traditional organized crime.

Last year, Illinois lawmakers approved a state version of RICO targeting street gangs and today, for the first time, it paid off.

"This new statute has enabled us to launch an unprecedented attack on the leadership of this violent and notorious Chicago street gang," Anita Alvarez explains.

23 members of the Black Souls Street Gang, including its reputed leader Cornel Dawson, have been charged with racketeering conspiracy. 18 more face drug or weapons charges.

Prosecutors say the gang has run an $11 million a year drug and heroin marketplace near Madison and Pulaski since the mid-1990's and committed seven murders to protect the operation.

The new RICO law allows prosecutors to charge gang members with being part of the criminal conspiracy, without having to prove they committed the specific criminal acts.

"It's time consuming, it's difficult and they're long investigations," says Gary McCarthy. "But the result is significant jail time. And it really sends a strong message to the organizations that if you're in that type of gang you're subject to some very significant prosecutions."

But, criminal defense attorney Joe Lopez says RICO can be abused, lumping small time drug dealers in with gang bosses.

"Well the drawbacks of this is you're gonna get some people swept into these massive conspiracies," Lopez says. "And it's gonna be very unfair to them. They are not gonna be able to afford to fight these cases."

Police chief McCarthy says similar state laws in New York were very effective in cracking down on street gangs there.

Chicago has the nation's largest street gang population, and McCarthy says he plans to use the new legal tool as much as possible.

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