Federal prosecutors on July 20 charged 19 reputed gang members with conspiracy to distribute vast amounts of narcotics across the state, while a manhunt continues for two fugitives.
The 18 men and one woman were arrested July 19 during a massive FBI sweep of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang, which authorities say controlled the distribution of heroin and cocaine from their home base in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood. The defendants originate mostly from Chicago and the southern suburbs.
The South Side operation is just one part of the gang’s larger distribution ring, dominating the West Side and southern and western suburbs, authorities said.
Clad in orange jumpsuits and manacles, the defendants shuffled into a small courtroom jammed with families and dozens of FBI agents, but did not enter pleas during Wednesday’s hearing.
Among them was the gang’s alleged ringleader, Jerome Murray, 38, of Crete. Authorities said he had both the status and the muscle to control the distribution of heroin and as much as 100 kilograms of cocaine per week.
His alleged underling, Clarence Whalum, 29, of Chicago, hawked cocaine to wholesale customers in an area between Martin Luther King Drive and Ashland Avenue, and between 100th Street and 127th Street on Chicago’s South Side, authorities said.
Gang members and associates would then redistribute the narcotics in Chicago Heights, Galesburg and as far away as Minnesota, according to authorities.
The arrests stemmed from an 18-month investigation in which the FBI, working with the Chicago Police Department, wiretapped cell phones and recorded thousands of calls between men with monikers like “Soup” and “Big Ant,” who pushed “strippers,” a code word for cocaine.
The bust represents a considerable dent in the sale of narcotics in the city, said FBI spokesman Ross Rice.
“When you have that many people involved in that amount of drugs, it’s going to be a significant blow,” he said.
Two charged men are still wanted by authorities: Stephen Dyer, 23, of Chicago, and Ernest McCarter, 26, of Ford Heights.
McCarter’s court-appointed attorney said he could not represent a missing client. “I can’t be appointed to represent a fugitive,” James Shapiro told U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys, who relieved Shapiro from the case until McCarter is found.
Two other men are in custody outside Illinois. Calumet City resident Philip Farmer, 24, was arrested in Michigan and will be transferred to Chicago, authorities said. Ramon Ceballos Jr., 25, is incarcerated in El Paso, Texas, on unrelated charges.
The Chicago defendants, all of whom are in custody, were scheduled to appear for detention hearings this past Monday.