Big­gest street gang trial in re­cent Chicago his­tory be­gins

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Michael Tarm

CHICAGO >> Six pur­ported lead­ers of the Ho­bos street gang went on trial Wed­nes­day in a case that is ex­pected to pro­vide a rare look inside the crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity fu­el­ing gun vi­o­lence in the na­tion’s third-largest city.

Pros­e­cu­tors say the de­fen­dants mur­dered, maimed and tor­tured their way into con­trol­ling the most lu­cra­tive drug mar­kets on Chicago’s South Side. The trial is the big­gest of its kind in re­cent city his­tory, and tes­ti­mony is ex­pected to last for months.

Fed­eral prose­cu­tor Pa­trick Otlewski told jurors that the six men charged with rack­e­teer­ing are “an all-star team of the worst of the worst” who “ter­ror­ized the city.”

“You will look into the eyes of mur­der­ers ... ev­ery day,” he said in open­ing state­ments.

The at­tor­ney for al­leged Ho­bos boss Gregory Ch­ester told jurors that his client strug­gled against all odds to sur­vive in what he called the “cal­dron where these men grew up with­out op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

“This case is about that place,” Beau Brind­ley said. He ac­knowl­edged that Ch­ester sold drugs to ac­quain­tances but said he had noth­ing to do with run­ning a gang.

He also told jurors that po­lice were frus­trated that they could not get Ch­ester to co­op­er­ate that they fab­ri­cated ev­i­dence sug­gest­ing he was a Ho­bos leader.

“At the cen­ter of this case is po­lice lies,” Brind­ley said.

Among the de­fen­dants is al­leged Ho­bos hit man Paris Poe, who pros­e­cu­tors say killed a govern­ment wit­ness in 2013, shoot­ing the man 25 times at close range while his hor­ri­fied stepchil­dren, ages 4 and 6 at the time, screamed in the back seat of a car. The 4-year-old later told in­ves­ti­ga­tors the “Boo­gie Man” had at­tacked them, ac­cord­ing to court fil­ings.

As the prose­cu­tor de­scribed the wit­ness’ death to jurors, he walked to­ward Poe sit­ting be­hind a de­fense ta­ble, rais­ing his voice.

“Who would do such a thing?” he asked and then pointed at Poe. “That man is in this court­room ... in that blue shirt — a cold-blooded mur­derer.”

He said the men’s mo­tives fell into three cat­e­gories: killing to boost their sta­tus and ter­ri­tory, killing over drugs and killing to elim­i­nate those co­op­er­at­ing with law en­force­ment.

The prose­cu­tor dis­played pho­to­graphs from crime scenes, in­clud­ing of two Ho­bos ri­vals slumped over dead in their SUV af­ter Ho­bos mem­bers al­legedly sprayed it with gun­fire in a drive-by at­tack.

At one point, Otlewski held up two black ri­fles in each hand a few feet from the jury box, say­ing they be­longed to the de­fen­dants. He also held up what he called a high­pow­ered pis­tol with “spe­cial bul­lets” that “ripped through cars and ripped through hu­man flesh.”

“In the hands of Ho­bos, these were killing ma­chines,” he said.

Pros­e­cu­tors will seek to prove that the de­fen­dants’ crim­i­nal con­spir­acy in­volved at least nine mur­ders, in­clud­ing the killing of semipro basketball player Ed­die Moss Jr. in a case of mis­taken iden­tity and the fa­tal drive-by shoot­ing of two ri­val gang mem­bers out­side a fu­neral home.

Se­cu­rity was heavy at fed­eral court in down­town Chicago. The judge or­dered jurors’ names be kept se­cret to en­sure they are not sub­ject to in­tim­i­da­tion. U.S. mar­shals have said they are al­ready in­ves­ti­gat­ing reported threats against sev­eral likely wit­nesses.

Poe, Ch­ester and four other co-de­fen­dants have all pleaded not guilty. If con­victed, they each face up to life in prison.

Pros­e­cu­tors say the Ho­bos formed from sev­eral frac­tured gangs with home bases in Chicago pub­lic hous­ing com­plexes that have since been de­mol­ished.

Govern­ment fil­ings cite one co-de­fen­dant, Wil­liam Ford, as ex­plain­ing in a se­cretly recorded con­ver­sa­tion how the gang got its name from an early em­pha­sis by its founders in 2003 on jew­elry and other heists.

“Af­ter they kept rob­bin’ ... they like, ‘Man, we Hobo,’” Ford said, ac­cord­ing to court fil­ings. “And Ho­bos, all they do is sleep and rob.”

But the Ho­bos’ ap­par­ent will­ing­ness to re­sort to vi­o­lence meant those goals changed over a decade to the point where they be­came one of the city’s dom­i­nant gangs. An­other Ho­bos motto, which Poe has tat­tooed to his back, re­flected that am­bi­tion — “The Earth Is Our Turf.”

“They weren’t sat­is­fied with a sin­gle block,” Otlewski said Wed­nes­day. “They were build­ing and es­tab­lish­ing power and ter­ri­tory.”

While drugs promised huge prof­its, rob­bery re­mained an as­pect of their crim­i­nal en­ter­prise, pros­e­cu­tors say. They al­legedly held up then-NBA basketball player Bobby Sim­mons at gun­point out­side a night­club in 2006, get­ting away with the ath­lete’s $200,000 white gold neck­lace. Pros­e­cu­tors say they also robbed other drug traf­fick­ers.

Court fil­ings de­scribe a gun bat­tle be­tween Ho­bos and ri­val Black Dis­ci­ples dur­ing a sum­mer pic­nic in 2007, when Ch­ester was shot 18 times. The Ho­bos spent weeks re­tal­i­at­ing, shoot­ing one Black Dis­ci­ple in face dur­ing a drive-by shoot­ing and hit­ting an­other as he walked into a day­care cen­ter.

VI­O­LENT CRIMES TASK FORCE, CHICAGO DI­VI­SION VIA AP

This un­dated wanted poster pro­vided by the Vi­o­lent Crimes Task Force, Chicago Di­vi­sion, shows pho­tos of Paris Poe. Poe is one of six de­fen­dants on trial for rack­e­teer­ing and other charges who are pur­ported lead­ers of the widely feared Ho­bos, a South Side gang that fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors said mur­dered, maimed and tor­tured their way into con­trol of some of Chicago’s most lu­cra­tive drug mar­kets. Their fed­eral trial be­gins Wed­nes­day.

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