Biggest street gang trial in recent Chicago history begins
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.
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.