Feds: Trial of alleged Four Corner Hustlers chief Labar Spann to reveal ‘world of murder, extortion’
Lawyers gave opening statements and prosecutors called their first witness Monday in Spann’s long-awaited trial, which is expected to last months.
Federal prosecutors warned jurors they’d soon learn about “the world of murder, extortion and drug dealing” on Chicago’s West Side as the lengthy racketeering trial of a reputed street gang leader kicked off in earnest Monday.
But a defense attorney for purported Four Corner Hustlers chief Labar “Bro Man” Spann said it’s also a world in which people “will say anything and do anything to save their own hides … they will lie, cheat and steal to cut a deal.”
And, he said, “lying about Labar Spann is part of that game.”
“You’ll find that Labar Spann is not guilty of racketeering,” defense attorney Matthew McQuaid told the jury during opening statements. “He is not the member of any enterprise.”
A short time later, prosecutors called their first witness in a long-awaited trial expected to last months at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. It comes four years after a sweeping racketeering indictment connected Spann to six murders, including the June 2003 slaying of Latin Kings boss Rudy “Kato” Rangel. His death inspired the tribute titled “A ‘Yo Kato” by rapper DMX.
The trial is taking place amid strict protocols related to security and the pandemic. Out of concern for COVID-19, members of the media and the public are restricted to an overflow room where video from the main courtroom is being streamed. Meanwhile, a court officer could be seen on that video searching under tables in the main courtroom with a flashlight before the proceedings began — a sign of the heightened security surrounding the case.
Spann uses a wheelchair and was paralyzed in a 1999 shooting, records show.
During her opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kavitha Babu told jurors to expect evidence in the form of social media posts, secret recordings and testimony from cooperating witnesses who “will walk you into a world that you otherwise would not have access to.”
She played jurors an excerpt from a 2015 recording in which Spann told federal agents, “I gang banged, bro. But I gang banged for the righteous.”
The prosecutor also showed jurors photographs from the bloody scenes of some of the murders in which the feds say Spann played a role. In addition to the Rangel killing, prosecutors have tied Spann to the murders of Carlos Caldwell, Maximillion McDaniel and Levar Smith in 2000, and George King and Willie Woods in 2003.
“Look for where these crimes happen,” Babu told the jury. “Look to see that they happen out in the open, in public, for everyone to see what the defendant and the Four Corner Hustlers were capable of. … How these crimes promoted the defendant and the Four Corner Hustlers’ reputation for violence and ruthlessness.”
McQuaid agreed that the world of the Four Corner Hustlers is “vulgar and it’s violent. It’s a street life of crime, chaos and dishonesty. They shoot each other and fight over drug turf.”
But the defense attorney noted that the murders at the center of Spann’s indictment occurred around two decades ago. He said police investigated them and most were “dormant and went cold for over 10 years.” He said that changed when a group of men found themselves in serious trouble and facing long prison sentences.
The men shifted the focus of investigators, McQuaid insisted, by “conjuring up stories about Labar Spann.”