A federal jury has convicted the highest-ranking member of the Latin Kings street gang in the country, also known as a "corona," following a five-day trial.
Augustin Zambrano, 51, was identified as the "corona" of the Almighty Latin King Nation gang based in Chicago during the six-week trial. Zambrano was convicted on racketeering conspiracy (RICO) and other charges including narcotics trafficking and related violence.
Zambrano was also known as "Big Tino," "Tino," "Old Man," and "Viejo." He and three co-defendants were found guilty of running a criminal enterprise centered around drug trafficking to preserve and protect their power, territory, and revenue with murder, attempted murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, extortion, and other acts of violence.
Also convicted of RICO conspiracy and other crimes were: Vicente Garcia, 33, identified at trial as the "supreme regional Inca," who was in charge of all Latin Kings in Illinois; Jose Guzman, 34, identified at trial as a former "Nation enforcer" in the 26th Street, Little Village faction; and Alphonso Chavez, 26, identified at trial as the "Inca," or leader of the gang's 31st-and-Drake faction.
"This verdict inflicts a serious blow to the leaders of the Latin Kings," said Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Illinois. "It demonstrates that the combined and coordinated efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement can assemble cases looking at disparate crimes, such as selling false identification documents in Little Village, and tie them all the way back to the gang leaders responsible for a broad array of criminal conduct."
Evidence at trial included audio and video recordings of three beatings inflicted upon gang members for violating the rules and testimony documenting 20 shootings in the Little Village area, including at least one in which the victim died. Zambrano and Garcia were both convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon.
The four trial defendants were among a total of 31 co-defendants who were indicted in September 2008 or charged in a superseding indictment in October 2009. Of those 31 defendants, 24 pleaded guilty, four were convicted at trial, and three remain fugitives. Three of the defendants who pleaded guilty testified as government witness at the trial.
The RICO conspiracy count included evidence that Zambrano and several co-defendants conspired to extort payments from an organization illegally selling fraudulent immigration documents in Little Village by threatening and using force and violence against members of that organization. Trial evidence proved federal charges that Latin Kings leaders extorted "street tax" from non-gang members, referred to as "miqueros," who sold the false identification documents.
The defendants kept victims in fear of the gang by enforcing what it referred to as an "SOS" — shoot on sight or smash on sight — order against Latin King members who cooperated with law enforcement.
The trial and earlier guilty pleas showed that many of the defendants were leaders of the 24 sections that comprised the 26th Street region in Little Village, who sold powder cocaine twice a month in late 2007 to fund the "Nation Box," a kitty that the regional hierarchy used to purchase weapons and ammunition, and pay for funeral and attorney fees for fellow gang members.
Evidence of the RICO conspiracy also included proof that the defendants and their associates:
- Conducted the gang's affairs through a series of laws and policies, which were codified in a "constitution," "manifesto," and the "26th Street rules." The laws included a three-page list of 25 rules establishing procedures for homicides, security, and the sale of counterfeit identification documents.
- Attended regular meetings known as "demos" or, when held by Nation officers "Nation demos," where they planned criminal activity.
- Initiated members with physical assaults conducted by other members at gang-related gatherings.
- Managed the procurement, transfer, use, concealment, and disposal of firearms and dangerous weapons to protect gang-related territory, personnel, and operations, as well as to deter, eliminate, and retaliate against competitors and other rival gangs and individuals.
The RICO conspiracy, extortion conspiracy, and assault with a dangerous weapon counts each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is set for Zambrano for Aug. 23 and the other three defendants for Aug. 24-26.
The Latin Kings gang began in Chicago's west side Little Village community, and spread throughout the city, Illinois, and into other states, where local leaders acted with some autonomy but adhered to the rules and hierarchy of the gang that now has about 10,000 Illinois members.