The Hobos do exist.
A federal jury said so Wednesday, handing prosecutors a sweeping victory against the so-called “super gang” after six days of deliberations in a trial that has been playing out at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse ever since Labor Day.
Jurors found six men, including Hobos leader Gregory “Bowlegs” Chester, 39, and notorious assassin Paris “Poleroski” Poe, 36, guilty of a racketeering conspiracy and five murders committed amid a 10-year reign of terror on Chicago’s South and West sides. They found Poe guilty of murdering Keith Daniels, an FBI informant who turned against the street gang.
Also convicted of the conspiracy were Arnold “Armstrong” Council, 40; Gabriel “Louie” Bush, 37; William “Joe Buck” Ford, 37, and Derrick “D-Block” Vaughn, 30. Prosecutors have previously tied the gang to as many as nine killings. Their sentencing was set for June 23.
“The Hobos street gang was as bad as it gets,” U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said after the verdict. “These men were ruthless in their pursuit of crime and violence. They sought to join forces to enrich themselves and empower themselves through fear and through violence.”
Four of the Hobos face a mandatory life sentence. One of them, Poe, sat with his arms crossed in the packed courtroom, smirking as U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp Jr. spent 20 minutes reading a lengthy verdict that included many special findings regarding the Hobos’ crimes. Then Poe smiled as the group of anonymous jurors left the courtroom.
When it was all over, Chester hugged his defense attorney, Beau Brindley.
Brindley’s client took the witness stand during the trial and told jurors the Hobos never existed. Chester once survived being shot 19 times and got his nickname from a bone disease that makes it difficult to walk. He mocked the idea of a “crippled gang leader,” and his lawyer argued Chester was framed because he refused to go along with a police officer’s shakedown.
“The RICO statute is an instrument of injustice,” Brindley said in a statement after the verdict. “The evidence of outright police corruption and dishonesty against Mr. Chester was undeniable and reasonable doubt apparent. His conviction results, not from evidence of anything he actually did, but from prosecutors’ use of the RICO statute to obtain convictions in the absence of proof and provide the public with a convenient scapegoat for the city’s violence epidemic.”
Chester faces a maximum punishment of life in prison, but it is not mandatory. However, he also faces sentencing in a separate federal drug case.
Fardon’s office has pointed to the Hobos trial as significant in its efforts to combat street violence, a problem that seems to be increasingly out of hand in Chicago. The Hobos’ crimes lasted from 2004 until 2013, but their trial just happened to take place in 2016, a year in which Chicago surpassed 700 homicides for the first time since 1998.
On Wednesday, Fardon said the verdict against the Hobos creates “a message.”
“A message that society cares,” Fardon said. “That we will fight to bring justice and stop ruthlessness. That somebody is here to punch back. And so others be warned: Do not go down this path.”
The marathon trial began shortly after Labor Day, and lawyers found themselves racing to finish 14 weeks of testimony before Christmas.
Authorities described the gang as a “conglomerate,” a “renegade group” or even an “all-star team of the worst of the worst” of Chicago’s street gangs, which rose out of the now-demolished Robert Taylor Homes.
The feds say the gang members gunned down enemies who threatened their power, studied their victims carefully and then employed rental cars to avoid detection. They fired at one man with a pistol “that shoots the equivalent of rifle rounds” as he tried to pick up his son at a daycare, and Vaughn helped assassinate another gang leader as the leader sat in his car after a funeral.
In one assault, prosecutors say Poe helped torture two brothers with an iron during a home invasion.
The Hobos are most notorious for their brutal executions of people who cooperated with law enforcement against the gang. Poe and Council chased CPD informant Wilbert “Big Shorty” Moore into a vacant lot more than 10 years ago, gunning him down for leading the cops to an apartment where Council sold crack cocaine.
Then, in April 2013, Poe cut off an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet to hunt down and execute Daniels, a man who had been cooperating for years with the FBI. Poe stepped out from behind a shrub as Daniels, his girlfriend and their two young children returned home to Dolton from a family dinner.
Daniels’ family watched as Poe, in a mask, fired “gunshot after gunshot after gunshot” into the federal informant. Shanice Peatry, Daniels’ girlfriend, testified that before the gunman escaped, she saw his eyes as well as “little dreads” peeking out from under the black mask.
“I know him by the name of Poleroski,” Peatry testified.
Jurors watched a video of Daniels’ son describing the killing. At the time, the boy was 6 years old. His sister was 4. When the ambush began, Peatry said Daniels jumped out of the car to draw fire away from his family.
“My sister said, ‘Don’t get out, Daddy! Don’t!” the boy said. And later, he added that his father “didn’t listen to her. That’s why he got shot in his leg.”
The gang’s violence prompted unusual security precautions ahead of the trial. A metal detector has been set up for months outside Tharp’s 14th-floor courtroom, and jurors were chosen from an anonymous pool. Tharp refused to shackle the defendants’ legs during testimony, though he maintained the threat of shackles if any of them stepped out of line.
Still, it became clear some witnesses understood the threat the gang posed. One federal inmate, Mack Mason, was sentenced to an additional two months in jail rather than testify against Poe. He told the judge, “I choose not to testify for the sake of me and my family.”
And back in September, jurors watched former NBA player Bobby Simmons take the witness stand and seemingly forget about the night Poe allegedly robbed him of a $200,000 diamond and white gold necklace. Simmons was ultimately forced to sit on the witness stand — in front of the defendants — and listen to federal agents read the testimony he gave to a grand jury in 2013.
Simmons told the grand jurors about his high-speed pursuit of Poe and Council through the streets of Chicago in June 2006 — including on Lake Shore Drive. Simmons refused to give up on the car chase even after the men shot at him at least 15 times. At the time, Simmons was a member of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Still, Chester tried to convince the jury the Hobos street gang didn’t exist. On the witness stand, he said the term “Hobo” referred to a friend who was gunned down in the Robert Taylor Homes in 2000.
Chester and Poe each have “Hobo” tattooed on their skin. But Chester said those tattoos were simply tributes to their fallen comrade. He said the notorious words “The Earth Is Our Turf” — identified by the feds as the Hobos’ creed — was a popular rap song their friend had written.
“Hobo is not a gang,” Chester told the jury.