Twenty-four people accused of belonging to a violent Milwaukee street gang known as the First and Keefe Vice Lords have been charged in federal court, bringing to 100 the number of purported gang members arrested and facing federal charges so far this year, officials said Thursday.
It was the second round of indictments involving this branch of the Vice Lords, following one in 2006. The defendants - charged with murder, assassinations, dealing crack cocaine, powder cocaine and marijuana - face from 10 years to life in prison if convicted depending on charges, officials said. Two indictments were returned by a grand jury March 25 and unsealed Thursday.
This year, federal and local officials announced charges against 45 members of the so-called 1-9 Nash Street Boys. Also charged this year were 31 people implicated in a ring moving high-grade marijuana from California to Wisconsin and other states.
U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic said the charges will keep coming as local, state and federal authorities continue joint investigations, but he cautioned that they take time.
"We will continue to march through these gangs," he said.
Pointing to five years of large-scale gang and drug prosecutions, Biskupic said his office will prosecute drug-dealing gangs anywhere, including in the suburbs. Several of the suspects in the marijuana case from this year grew up in Milwaukee's suburbs. He also noted that efforts are under way to target the flow of suburban money into the city to buy drugs.
"It is a regional problem," he said, "not just a city of Milwaukee problem."
During the five years of gang prosecution, no other period comes close to the 100 people charged since January, according to information provided by the U.S. attorney's office. In 2005, 116 people were charged in four different indictments, but those occurred over 10 months. No such large cases were indicted last year, and Biskupic cited the extensive time it takes to investigate and the cyclical nature of gang crime as explanations.
Documents released Thursday didn't give many details of the crimes attributed to these latest suspects, except that many are charged with dealing large amounts of cocaine and other drugs. Biskupic said the gang protected its turf with guns and two factions within the gang had begun to battle each other.
Mayor Tom Barrett called the investigation an example of "breathtaking" cooperation.
Richard Ruminski, head of the FBI's Milwaukee office, said 98 of the 100 suspected gang members charged this year are in custody; the latest one turned himself in Thursday at FBI headquarters.
Officials said they are following up such crackdowns with services in an effort to help neighborhoods and prevent new gangs from filling in behind those arrested, through a federal program known as "Safe Streets."
"I extend a message of hope," said Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm. "We can make a difference, and we are making a difference."
Chisholm and the other officials were careful not to link the recent indictments directly to last year's decrease in shootings in the city, or to the low homicide rate so far this year (14 compared with 27 at this time last year), but did call those developments an encouraging sign.
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