The local incarnation of the Safe Streets Task Force has netted dozens of indictments, mostly for drug trafficking, since it was organized about four years ago.
Now the task force wants to turn its attention to local street gangs – and hopes for the same success.
Criminal organizations targeted in the Fort Wayne Safe Streets Task Force’s first few years have included prison gangs, the Outlaws Motorcycle Club and large-scale drug operations.
We will now turn all of our efforts toward dismantling the most violent street gangs in Fort Wayne, said Supervisory Senior Resident Agent David Crawford, who runs the FBI’s Fort Wayne office.
Late last year, federal prosecutors obtained indictments for seven members of the Cash Out Boyz, a South Bend street gang targeted by the task force. It is an investigation Crawford is hoping to replicate in Fort Wayne.
Fort Wayne history
The FBI created the Safe Streets Violent Crime Initiative in 1992. Nationally, there are 160 Safe Streets/ Violent Gang task forces operating, with four organized task forces in Indiana.
Fort Wayne’s task force first appeared in late May 2009 and is composed of officers from the Indiana State Police, the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, Fort Wayne Police Department and FBI agents.
The task force was announced the day before an eight-month investigation into a local drug trafficking ring became public, showing the group had been active but unseen.
The first group the task force rounded up was then-38-year-old Andre L. Hutchins and his wife, Talitha N. Hutchins. The couple was accused of running a sophisticated cocaine-trafficking ring from their home, in the 2700 block of Jacobs Creek Run. The sting also grabbed Charles Dies, said to be the Hutchinses’ supplier.
At the time the indictments and complaints were announced, Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York said the city’s department could not have taken the investigation that far on its own.
Then, in September 2010, six people were rounded up as part of an investigation into the shipment of high-quality methamphetamine from Mexico into northeast Indiana.
The task force followed that up in April 2011 with 40 indictments and complaints against members of three overlapping drug trafficking rings that moved cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the area.
Last summer, local investigators teamed up to help an Indianapolis task force investigation of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club. While the investigation and subsequent indictments came out of U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, two Fort Wayne men were indicted and the local club’s Main Street club house was raided.
Most recently, the task force executed a highly publicized search of Michael Fabini’s Cherry Hill home. Last month, Fabini and Marshall Butler were indicted on federal drug trafficking charges. Federal prosecutors accuse the pair of involvement with Matthew McChesney, an Allen County man arrested in 2008 after receiving a shipment of 6,700 pounds of marijuana at his Harlan home. McChesney is currently serving a 27-year federal prison sentence for drug trafficking.
Many of the task force’s investigations involve the use of wire taps and extensive surveillance. And FBI officials pride themselves on their ability to net more than one or two fish at a time.
Crawford promised the same sophisticated investigative techniques will be used as the investigators look at local street gangs.
Those techniques, he said, will be used to gather evidence that leads to the prosecution of those gangs on federal racketeering charges and other applicable violations of federal law.
City police officials have linked some of the recent violence to street gang activity.
The Cash Out Boyz
On Dec. 14, the Indianapolis Division of the FBI announced an indictment against members of the South Bend street gang known as the Cash Out Boyz.
The indictment accused the seven South Bend men – all between the ages of 19 and 21 – of racketeering, participating in a criminal enterprise through drug trafficking, murder, robbery and assaults.
At the time of the announcement, U.S. Attorney David Capp, who handles the northern district of Indiana, praised the cooperative work of not just the FBI and local law enforcement, but also the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service.
The indictment represents part of our ongoing effort in northern Indiana against violent street gangs, Capp said in a statement issued at the time. Our investigation is continuing, and we’re not going to stop until we remove these violent offenders from the streets.
According to the indictment, Demerius Shaw, Timothy Whitfield, Alvin Blade III, Jarvis Ward, Jaleen McGee, Brison Williams and Rickey Hemphill were in the business of dealing drugs.
And to further that business, they engaged in murder, attempted murder, assaults with deadly weapons, robbery and home invasions in the South Bend area.
Shaw filed a guilty plea with the court this month. In that document, he admitted participating in the May 2011 robbery of a suspected drug dealer inside his home and in front of his children. The suspected drug dealer was shot.
Shaw also admitted giving Bradley McLeod a gun, which he then used immediately to shoot another suspected drug dealer.
And Shaw also confessed to fatally shooting a rival gang member, Steven Chatman, in front of a convenience store, according to court documents.
In exchange for Shaw’s guilty plea in federal court, the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office will dismiss the charges pending against Shaw for Chatman’s death, as well as a number of state-level racketeering charges, according to court documents.
With a string of homicides and other shootings in recent weeks, city police officials repeatedly stressed that the violence was not random, and while the bullets seem to fly indiscriminately, they are often targeted at specific people or are related to specific activities.
York said the department needs the continued involvement of people in the community to bring these cases to a close.
It is an issue, and the thing of it is, though, that people just can’t live in fear, York said in an interview after the most recent city homicide. They have to stand up to these idiots. They have to report those things.
York also stressed the good working relationship the city’s police department has with federal agencies.
The ATF also has a street crime task force operating in the city. A sting in the spring of 2005 snagged a group of street gang members trying to hijack a load of cocaine coming into the city.
Then, in 2008 and 2009, federal prosecutors obtained indictments against local cocaine traffickers Woodrow Ormiston and Michael Bower from information gathered from an extensive ATF task force investigation.
One thing that we’re doing, what I can say publicly, is that we’re working with the federal partners, the FBI and the ATF, to focus on these people involved in violent gangs and to take them off the street, York said.
Crawford wants the public to know that the FBI will offer monetary rewards to anyone who provides gang-related information that leads to the arrest and conviction of gang members.
Any information gathered will be used to the fullest effect, positively, he said.