Undercover cops nab 38 linked to 2 gangs

Little Village crime tied to rival groups

By David Heinzmann
Tribune staff reporter
Published March 31, 2006

 
An 11-month undercover investigation has wiped out a group of Latin Kings who dealt drugs and are believed to have caused most of the violence, along with rival members of the Two-Six gang, in the Little Village neighborhood, police said Thursday.

Police have arrested 38 suspected gang members, the majority of whom were Latin Kings and several members of the Two-Six gang, Deputy Supt. Hiram Grau said.

As many as 18 murders and 56 shootings have been tied to the violence between the two gangs in Little Village in the last three years, police said. Police began conducting undercover purchases of drugs from the dealers 11 months ago, Grau said, in response to the persistent violence that plagued the area.

"We went there for one reason and one reason only--they were shooting," said Lt. John Rowton who oversaw the investigation by the Narcotics and Gang Investigation Section.

The set of Latin Kings dismantled operated in an area bounded Cermak Road, 31st Street, Kedzie and Kostner Avenues.
Police acknowledged that the Latin Kings are a very large organization and the set dismantled is one of many. While the investigators did arrest two prominent leaders, or "Incas," of the gang, it has not reached the top level of gang leadership.

The investigation is ongoing, Rowton said, and police are focusing on the drug trafficking parts of the gang operation. The Latin Kings control much of the flow of cocaine and heroin into the city from Mexico and are involved in distributing the drugs to many African-American gangs in the city, Grau said.

This particular set of the gang, which dealt most of the cocaine and heroin in the area, reaped an estimated $12 million a year from the drug business, police said. The investigation seized 75 pounds of marijuana, 251 grams of heroin and 525 grams of powder cocaine, police said.

The city also is investigating nine houses and buildings in the area that were purchased or acquired with drug money, police said. The city may seize the properties, authorities said.
The violence related to the rivalry between the Latin Kings and Two-Six extends beyond Little Village, police said . On Wednesday, police arrested Melecio Ochoa, 18, and a 13-year-old for a shooting in the Bridgeport neighborhood that injured a 6-year-old boy.

Ochoa is accused of shooting at rival gang members who were in front of the Fellowship Youth Center at 844 W. 32nd St. A bullet shattered a window of the center and a shard of glass struck the boy inside a classroom in the eye, police said. The boy's injuries were not life-threatening.

Drug sweep busts up 'family affair'

March 31, 2006

BY ANNIE SWEENEY Crime Reporter

On the streets of Little Village, she was affectionally called "Mama King.''

And for good reason -- Romanita Reyes, 45, is accused of selling drugs as a Latin King alongside four of her children, who range in age from 17 to 27.

The five allegedly plied drugs out of various homes in the West Side neighborhood, Chicago Police officials said. A customer would pull up and honk -- and down would come a brother. Or maybe a sister.

Exactly how the proceeds were shared wasn't clear.

"A family affair'' was how one investigator described it, adding he'd never seen anything like it.

"This is the first time in my years of being down there."

'It's grounds for murder'

The arrests of Reyes (in some reports she's also identified as Ramonita Reyes) and her family were just one element in an 11-month-long investigation into the Little Village neighborhood, where the Latin Kings and Two Six street gangs have long battled.

Reyes, investigators said, was not even the highest-ranking member among the 38 who were arrested.

The investigation centered on one of the most entrenched gang divisions in the city -- the area along Lawndale that separates the Kings from the Two-Sixers.

"If you cross that line, that's it,'' one investigator said. "It's grounds for murder.''

The situation is exacerbated by the organizations' history of swift revenge, the investigator said. One shooting quickly yields three or four more.

Last year, Chicago Police sent a team of investigators into the neighborhood, and what they found was a $12 million enterprise -- money for both gangs. Investigators seized 75 pounds of cannabis, 251 grams of heroin and 525 grams of powder cocaine.

"This is pure and simple organized crime,'' said Deputy Police Supt. Hiram Grau on Thursday. "The money is lucrative, which means violence is also plentiful."

Grau said there have been 18 homicides involving the two gangs since 2003 -- most of them in an area bounded by 22nd and 31st and Kostner and Kedzie. There have been 56 shootings in Little Village over the same period, with most of them attributed to the gangs.

"We went up there for one reason and one reason only -- they were shooting,'' said Lt. John Rowton, who oversaw the investigation.

But investigators stressed that the trick to policing a community plagued by these gangs -- where a shooting almost always is avenged -- is to get there before there is a spike in murders.

72-year-old among suspects

The investigation -- called "Operation 26th Street" -- ended this month. Charges against the 38 include weapons violations, criminal drug conspiracy and possession and delivery of drugs.

Among the group is a 72-year-old man, who was selling drugs as a Two-Sixer, and Camilo Alvarez, 29, who was considered an "Inca,'' or leader of the Latin King gang, investigators said. Alvarez has an arrest record that includes five felonies, police said.

The Latin Kings, now a national organization, started in Chicago and still have sets all over the city dealing cocaine and marijuana. They are believed to supply other street gangs throughout the city.

The Two Six gang has been in Little Village since the 1970s.

Puts 'dream back on the map'

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said the dispute has already spilled over from Little Village to other Hispanic neighborhoods, including Brighton Park and Back of the Yards, where there are large populations of Mexican immigrants.

"Usually [residents] are quiet; they keep to themselves," Cardenas said. "This is what these guys prey upon in these communities. That's how they're able to operate -- because not a lot of people come forward and talk about it."

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said area residents had been asking for help. "Little Village is a neighborhood of working-class residents -- new homeowners, long-term homeowners, 'mas,' 'pas,' uncles and aunts, who all want the same thing,'' said Munoz. "A school that educates, a neighborhood that's safe, and a job that pays well. The work done today helps put that dream back on the map.''