The tattooed arm of a member of the gang the Black Souls. One arm was tagged with “Black,” the other with “souls.” | Robert A. Davis/File photo

Black Souls gang members head to trial on RICO charges

SHARE Black Souls gang members head to trial on RICO charges
SHARE Black Souls gang members head to trial on RICO charges

A half dozen members of the Black Souls street gang head to trial Monday in a sprawling racketeering case that began seven years ago when an East Garfield Park man called police to report drug dealers on his corner.

Soon after calling the cops in 2012, Claude Snulligan was beaten unconscious by a trio of Black Souls. Undeterred, he named his assailants to police and pressed charges against them.

When gang leaders offered him cash to drop the charges, Snulligan again went to police, and recorded phone calls in which the gang’s attempt to buy his silence. In 2012, prosecutors allege Snulligan was gunned down by a Duavon “L’il Sap” Spears, who crept up behind Snulligan as he walked out of a store after paying his cellphone bill.

Snulligan’s murder is one of numerous killings and shootings enumerated by prosecutors in a 68-page affidavit filed a year after Snulligan died, alleging crimes by Black Souls members that date back to the 1990s. The investigation was dubbed “Operation .40-Caliber,” for the size of the bullet Spears allegedly fired in the back of Snulligan’s head.

Twenty-three Black Souls were charged in 2013, in what then-State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and then-Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said would be the first of many cases filed using the state racketeer-influenced corrupt organization statute — nicknamed “RICO” — that had passed into law a year earlier. Another 18 faced conventional drug and weapons charges.

Alleged gang leader Cornel “Corn” Dawson, his brother and top lieutenant Teron “Ty” Odum, Spears and three other high-ranking Black Souls will stand trial after a series of plea deals thinned the list of defendants.

Prosecutors allege the Black Souls had hundreds of members, controlled a drug market in East Garfield Park that netted the gang as much as $11 million, and routinely shot it out with rival gangs and with factions within the Souls.

Gang members also are accused of buying off, threatening or killing witnesses to their crimes. Low-ranking Black Souls member Charles Watson is among the alleged victims killed by the gang; prosecutors allege fellow Black Souls beat Watson to death and dumped him in a shallow grave in West Garfield Park.

Kevin Mitchell, a Black Souls member, has already pleaded guilty to the 1999 murder of Darryl Green, one of the deaths prosecutors count in the RICO case’s tally of killings carried out by the gang. Gang members kidnapped the business owner and held him for ransom, then killed him when Green’s brother couldn’t come up with the money they demanded. Mitchell was sentenced in June to 60 years in prison.

The RICO penalties allow prosecutors to hang sentences of up to 30 years on gang members found to be key players in the conspiracy, even if they weren’t involved in violent acts needed to support the criminal enterprise. If a jury finds that the racketeering also involved murders, the sentences can climb to natural life.

Federal RICO laws have been on the books since the 1960s, when they were passed to target large-scale criminal organizations like the Mafia, and remain fairly commonplace in federal courts. Federal prosecutors in Chicago used RICO laws in 2005 to prosecute mob figure Joey “The Clown” Lombardo and 13 other members of The Outfit for murders, loan sharking and other crimes dating back to the 1970s.

But despite the fanfare when Operation .40-Caliber was announced, Cook County has yet to see another RICO indictment.The case’s journey to a trial date dragged on so long, defense lawyers sought to have the charges thrown out because the five-year span set for the state’s RICO law had expired. Gov. Bruce Rauner this summer renewed the law for another five-year stretch, a provision of a bill that also reformed state bond laws.

The trial is expected to last a month or longer, and an extra-large group of jurors was selected as a hedge against fatigue or other complications leading to jurors dropping out. Courtroom security also will be tightened in Judge Michael McHale’s courtroom for the duration of the trial.

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