As they planted the seeds of Chicago’s “new breed of street gang” more than a decade ago, its South Side leaders allegedly uttered these simple words: “Man, we Hobo.”
Hobos “just sleep and rob,” they said.
Now, the nickname is inked on the skin of the gang’s elites along with the words, “The Earth Is Our Turf.” But the ruthless and exclusive Hobos crew, an alliance of deadly street gangs forged in the now-demolished Robert Taylor Homes, didn’t stop with robbery, the feds say. Not even close.
Instead, the so-called “super gang” brought a reign of terror down on Chicago’s South and West sides between 2004 and 2013, federal prosecutors say. Its members allegedly held a teen for ransom, tortured suspected drug dealers with an iron, robbed NBA players and even threatened a police officer inside a Cook County courthouse.
Most significantly, the Hobos are accused of committing nine murders — among them the slayings of informants Keith Daniels and Wilbert Moore. But now, prosecutors are set to put seven Hobos on trial for racketeering Wednesday, including undisputed leader Gregory “Bowlegs” Chester and alleged assassin Paris “Poleroski” Poe.
The significant street-gang trial in the 14th-floor courtroom of U.S. District John J. Tharp Jr. could last months and has created security concerns around the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. Prosecutors persuaded Tharp to keep jurors anonymous, records show. The U.S. Marshals also asked the judge to keep the Hobos shackled during the trial. Tharp declined.
The trial started Tuesday, with jury selection expected to begin Wednesday.
Prosecutors believe Daniels was murdered to keep him from testifying, but the judge has ruled Daniels may speak from the grave through grand jury testimony offered before his death.
The feds are also worried about the safety of other witnesses, and a U.S. Marshals supervisor told the judge last week the agency is investigating alleged threats made toward people under marshal protection in connection with the case.
A grand jury first indicted the Hobos in 2013. Their trial will commence while Chicago grapples with gun violence that has sent this year’s murder tally soaring.
The Hobos’ defense attorneys complain in court filings that their clients are being treated “like a dangerous animal.” But that would be a stark contrast from the high-flying lifestyle the feds say the Hobos once enjoyed. The gang amassed a fleet of luxury cars, became elite gamblers and even took tropical vacations in Florida and Hawaii, court records show.
Now, Poe and others could face a lifetime in prison. Last January, prosecutors declined to pursue the death penalty.
Poe’s lawyer did not comment when contacted by the Chicago Sun-Times. Chester’s attorney didn’t respond.
Authorities say the Hobos are a collection of Gangster Disciples, Black Disciples and others — a “renegade group” or “conglomerate.” Its core members built a base of operations out of the Robert Taylor public housing project, records show.
SUPER GANG ON TRIAL
The Hobo lore has been laid out in court records, along with an apparent reference to Chester and Gabriel Bush as the men who said “we Hobo” because they “just sleep and rob.”
“The Hobos’ violence against rivals increased their reputation and allowed the Hobos to maintain their power on the streets, while decreasing the likelihood that other gang factions would seek to retaliate,” prosecutors wrote in a lengthy court filing.
The gang members allegedly referred to each other as “Hobo,” and federal prison officials even once found a handmade “Happy Birthday Ho-Bo” card in the locker of inmate Stanley “Smiley” Vaughn, who has already admitted his role with the gang.
The gang’s fleet of automobiles included Dodge Chargers, Range Rovers and Cadillac Escalades. But Poe held on to an old-school Chevy Impala with the word “Hobo” stitched into the headrest.
Prosecutors say Chester’s street reputation was established when he and Bush robbed a pair of jewelry stores with a TEC-9 handgun and a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun in the mid-1990s. The feds call Chester the gang’s “undisputed leader.” A tattoo on his arm depicts two high-rise buildings in an apparent homage to the Robert Taylor Homes — along with a hand holding a smoking gun and another holding a bag of money.
But prosecutors also say the Hobos’ horizontal structure gave the gang flexibility, and its leader “at any given moment would be the individual heading or arranging the criminal activity.”
So while Chester may be the boss, much attention has also been paid to the ruthless and cunning Poe, whose own misspelled tattoo reads, “Cheif Hobo.” He allegedly cut off an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet in 2013 to hunt and execute Daniels — in front of Daniels’ girlfriend and children — for informing on the gang. Chester allegedly summed it up when he said on a recorded jailhouse phone call: “This motherf—er crazy. Poe. Poe. He crazy.”
The FBI had tried to hide Daniels from the Hobos in Dolton. But the feds say Poe appeared there wearing black clothes and a black knitted hat on April 14, 2013. He allegedly began to fire at a vehicle in which Daniels had been a passenger until Daniels jumped out and fell to the ground. Poe allegedly kept shooting as he stood over Daniels’ body.
Poe would be arrested weeks later by a SWAT team in Wisconsin after a daylong search that locked down several schools. In a court filing, the government indicated that prosecutors intend to introduce evidence that a second person also helped Poe during Daniels’ slaying.
Daniels was the brother of Hobo Arnold “Armstrong” Council, court records show. After Daniels’ death, Council allegedly told his mother that she shouldn’t have stopped making payments on Daniels’ life insurance policy. He also allegedly said other young people in the family should use Daniels’ death as an example.
Seven years earlier, the feds say Poe was also involved in the murder of Moore, a Chicago police informant. Poe allegedly helped the Hobos seek retribution after Moore led CPD to an apartment where Council sold cocaine. In January 2006, Poe allegedly shot at Moore outside a South Side barbershop. He and Council then allegedly chased Moore to a vacant lot.
That’s where Poe handed a gun to Council so Council could shoot Moore, the feds say.
The violence didn’t stop there. Later that year, occupants of a Dodge Magnum tried to gun down Chester at a car wash at 76th and Vincennes. They shot Chester multiple times, but prosecutors say Poe stepped in to protect the Hobo leader, firing back and killing an innocent bystander. Chester was treated at a hospital under the name Desjuar Anderson.
Finally, Poe has admitted to his role in a 2009 home invasion in which two brothers suspected of drug dealing were forced to the floor, gagged and burned with an iron. While the brothers were covered with a comforter, the home invaders threatened to set them on fire and poured something on them. It turned out to be hot sauce, police reports show.
While under the blanket, the men couldn’t see the home invaders. But they could hear threats documented in police reports like, “I know what time your wife goes to work, what time you pick your kids up from school” as well as Poe’s alleged command to “smoke him so we can ride out; take the little guy in the bathroom and smoke him.”
But the home invaders carried what sounded like a chirping police scanner. One suddenly yelled “let’s go!” And the Hobos all disappeared.
The brothers were burned and beaten, but survived.