By Annie Sweeney and Jason Meisner
4:28 PM CDT, June 13, 2013
The top leaders of one of Chicago’s most violent street gangs have been charged in a sweeping racketeering case that alleges they controlled their West Side drug empire through pattern of intimidation, kidnappings, shootings and murder dating back to the mid-1990s, according to an affidavit unsealed today in Cook County Criminal Court.
Before sunrise today, police armed with "no knock" search warrants fanned out across the Chicago area surprising dozens of leaders of the Black Souls, including Cornel Dawson, known as the gang’s chief, and Teron Odum, described as Dawson’s second-in-command. Also arrested were a number of “top runners” and “supervisors” who authorities say control the gang’s street operations.
The 78-page affidavit alleges the Black Souls ran an $11 million-a-year drug operation and protected the enterprise with violence that included at least seven murders from 1994 to 2012. In all, 23 members of the gang have been charged with racketeering conspiracy, while 18 more face state drug or weapons charges, authorities said.
Among the charges was the slaying last October of Claude Snulligan, whom authorities said was fatally shot after he worked undercover and agreed to testify against the gang’s leaders about a robbery and attempted kidnapping months earlier.
The case, dubbed “Operation 40 Cal,” marks the first prosecution under the state’s new anti-racketeering law designed to hold gang leaders accountable for violence their organizations wreak on city streets.
“The new street gang RICO law has enabled us to launch an unprecedented attack on the leadership of this violent and notorious gang,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said at a news conference today at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. “It is a game-changer for law enforcement in our war against Chicago street gangs.”
Chicago police Supt. Garry McCarthy said similar measures were used to great effect during his tenure in New York and allow police to “permeate the veil of secrecy” in which gang leaders surround themselves.
“We’re going to use this a lot,” McCarthy said.
Court appearances for the defendants are expected to begin Friday.
The arrests mark the first prosecution by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office under the gang RICO law, which took effect in June 2012 and was modeled after the 1970 federal RICO statute originally designed to go after mobsters. By classifying a gang as a criminal enterprise, the law allows authorities to hold leaders responsible for the gang’s actions even if they are insulated from a particular crime such as a murder or drug deal.
The law carries stiff penalties for those convicted of participating in a criminal enterprise -- from a mandatory 7- to 30-year prison term for racketeering conspiracy up to life in prison without parole for those convicted of murder under the statute.
The Black Souls gang was founded on the city’s West Side and is thought to have a half-dozen factions with more than 750 members, according to law enforcement reports.
In 2010, the gang was targeted by then-Chicago police Supt. Jody Weis under a new strategy to crack down on an entire gang if one of its members was involved in a fatal shooting. The effort, which began with the August 2010 murder of high school senior Anthony Carter, netted more than 60 arrests, according to a Tribune report that year.
Over the past decade, the federal RICO statute has been used against two Chicago-area gangs: the Latin Kings in Chicago and the Insane Deuces in Aurora.
In the Latin Kings case, prosecutors emphasized that the case provided them with a rare opportunity to hold the highest ranking Latin King in the country accountable for the violence that supported the gang’s drug enterprise.
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