Suspected Northwest Jacksonville gang members arrested in RICO investigation

by Matt Coleman (from jacksonville.com)
November 13, 2009

jacksonvillegang

Police arrested 13 men this week they say are linked to a Northwest Jacksonville gang that ripped off and roughed up residents in and around West 45th Street and Moncrief Road for more than a year.

The arrests were the culmination of an 18-month joint investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Each was charged as a member of the 45th Street Gang, according to arrest reports. They all live in Jacksonville.

If convicted, the men face a maximum of 60 years in prison under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations statute, commonly called RICO.

Undersheriff Frank Mackesy said members sold drugs, stole from locals, feuded with other criminal organizations and generally terrorized people in the area.

“We know they’ve done murders and assaults, but we haven’t been able to prove that yet,” Mackesy said.

One of the arrested suspects, 22-year-old Tyrone Curtis Gantt, faces additional felonies including homicide, drug and gun possession. Other gang members are on the streets, and the undersheriff said more arrests are imminent. He wouldn’t say how many other 45th Street members police have identified.

Others arrested were: Raylan Leon Johnson, 22; Travis Justin Green, 26; Tyree Curshawn Gantt, 19; Deron Loven Johnson, 20; Freddie N. Richardson, 20; Steve McGarrett Sutton, 19; Oscar Giles III, 21; Donnell Raynard Carter, 19; Terry Antonio Smith, 21; Bimely West, 19; Derrick D. Kirkland, 23; and Edward Cornelius Haney, 20.

Mackesy said the gang operated as a collective and didn’t defer to any leader. Some were already in jail on other charges.

They wore specific colors and employed coded hand signals and greetings, but he wouldn’t elaborate on the specifics.

Matt O’Keefe, a division chief with the State Attorney’s Office who acts as a liaison to the Sheriff’s Office’s Gang Unit, said the suspects will be prosecuted jointly for multiple crimes including car theft, gun possession and assault.

He said a key factor of RICO cases is that prosecutors must establish a strong tie among the suspects, the crimes and the gang.

“If we can show a particular crime perpetrated by an individual was done so for the benefit of the group, we can prosecute them as a criminal organization,” O’Keefe said. “And that carries a much stiffer penalty than the typical street-level crime.”

Sheriff John Rutherford said in January at a gang-reduction seminar hosted by state Attorney General Bill McCollum that there wasn’t a gang problem in Jacksonville. But he told the Times-Union in May after the arrest of seven suspected 103rd Street Certified Head Bustas members that he would use RICO as a “big hammer” to eliminate gangs in Jacksonville.

Mackesy said that change in tone can be attributed to the expansion of the RICO act in October 2008. He said the revision opened up the parameters by which law enforcement agencies could identify gangs and approach gang members.

He said the Sheriff’s Office has been steadily sorting through its backlogs of street crimes to determine which incidents can be linked to a criminal collective.

“Before the law was revised, we technically didn’t have these gangs because they weren’t identified as such by the letter of the law,” Mackesy said. “But when the definition of the law was expanded with RICO, we got to call them what they are. If it robs like a gang and shoots like a gang, it’s a gang.”

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