Racine - The Gangster Disciples, whom authorities call this city's most violent street gang, have been crippled by a four-year task force investigation that unraveled nine homicides and led to prison terms for 13 men, officials announced Tuesday.
Dating back to the early 1990s, the Gangster Disciples made the south side of Racine "the Wild West" through dozens of shootings, kidnappings, robberies and other crimes, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mario Gonzales. But with the work of the task force winding down, gang violence, largely tied to cocaine trafficking, is down dramatically, he said.
"I can't say that the gang problem in Racine has been eliminated," said another prosecutor, Michael Nieskes, Racine County chief deputy district attorney. However, "there is a fundamental difference in the kinds of activities you see on the street. We don't have that kind of violence," he said.
The Racine Police Department announced Tuesday that 21 members or associates of the Gangster Disciples in Racine have been indicted on federal charges including drug trafficking, racketeering and homicide since the task force was formed in 1999. All of the prosecutions, which involve allegations dating back to 1992, are in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee.
Among the 20 men and one woman indicted, 13 have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 30 months to life plus 25 years, according to the Police Department. In addition, four defendants have been convicted and are awaiting sentencing, while four more are awaiting trial.
Some of the defendants - including Plaze "Quick" Anderson, the purported Racine leader of the Gangster Disciples - have received news coverage individually as a result of the task force's work. But authorities withheld announcing the full results of their work until the investigation of some homicides and other crimes was concluded, said Racine police Sgt. William Macemon.
"We just want to let people know that those homicides were not forgotten," he said.
Anderson's conviction marked a turning point both because of his position as leader and because he was among the first individuals prosecuted, Gonzales said.
Anderson was convicted in January 2001 in the delivery of more than 30 kilograms of crack cocaine in Racine and was sentenced to life in prison. He was also convicted in connection with a 1992 murder and sentenced to another 25 years in prison.
Anderson had become something of a legend after surviving being shot nine times by a rival gang member in March 1998 at the Bryant Community Center, Gonzales said.
Defendants became more cooperative in providing information about other defendants after Anderson's prosecution, Gonzales said. The task force also had the advantage, not enjoyed by local law enforcement agencies, of being able to subpoena witnesses to testify in secret before a federal grand jury, he said.
The prosecutions have significantly diminished the power of the Gangster Disciples, the number of shootings and the amount of other violence in Racine, Gonzales said. "It was like the Wild West, quite frankly. There were guys carrying guns and shooting at each other," he said.
In the early 1990s, Racine County's homicide rate - on a per capita basis - rivaled that of much more populous Milwaukee County, said Nieskes. But that has dropped dramatically, and Racine hasn't recorded the homicide of an adult in 18 months, he said.
Gonzales said the task force expects to file charges soon in three of the nine homicides, including a double homicide in 1992. The task force likely will disband in the fall, he said.
Besides Racine police, the U.S. attorney's office in Milwaukee and the Racine County district attorney's office, other members of the task force included the Racine County Sheriff's Department and the FBI.