Latin Kings gang leader sentenced to 60 years

January 11, 2012

Jennifer Brandel and The Associated Press

(Flickr/Chicago's Cold War)
Gang graffiti in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood.

A Chicago gang leader who prosecutors say used murder and other violence to protect his drug-selling operation — even while behind bars — has been sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Fifty-one-year-old Augustin Zambrano's sentencing in federal court Wednesday came nine months after a jury found him guilty of racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit extortion and assault with a dangerous weapon. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he must serve 85 percent of that sentence, meaning he'll be more than 100-years-old when he's eligible for release. Prosecutors say Zambrano was a top leader in the Chicago-based Latin Kings street gang — which authorities say had 10,000 Illinois members.

The bespectacled Zambrano gave a wave to supporters in the courtroom as he shuffled in wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. Over the course of an hour, United States Attorney Andrew Porter argued Zambrano deserved the full possible sentence of 60 years. 

"This case is about targeting the leadership of this gang," Porter said. "Sentencing him to anything less than 60 years doesn't send the message as loudly and clearly as it needs to be sent." Porter continued, saying, "If you participate in this violent enterprise [The Latin Kings], you forfeit the right to live in a free society."

The prosecution said it wasn't that Zambrano himself specifically ordered murders or shootings, but that he put the systems in place that allowed shootings and murders to happen, and that violence was written into the Latin King's consitution.

Citing a time when Zambrano allegedly ordered two Latin Kings beaten in the back of a bar for spilling beer on his wife, Porter said "The man is an unrepentent career criminal who led a murderous violent street gang for over a decade... and caused fear and violence to course through the streets of Chicago."

Zambrano's attorney, Jim Graham, asked the judge for a sentence substantially less than 60 years citing the defendant's middle-age and saying anything over 35 or 40 years is essentially a life sentence.

Federal Judge Charles Norgle handed down the full 60-year sentence after reading a lengthy list of Zambrano's past arrests and convictions, beginning when he was 16 years old and called the time Zambrano's spent in prison already "noteworthy."

The judge said, "It should have been clear to Zambrano at an early age that he should adjust his behavior or he'll be in for difficult times."

Norgle added that Zambrano has shown no acceptance of responsibility or remorse and among his victims are his own gang's members who have been brutalized by the Latin Kings.

As the sentence was read, Zambrano's supporters in the crowd sniffled quietly. The judge asked for futher comment and Graham said he would be filing an appeal by the end of Wednesday. Graham also asked the judge about looking into the criminal background of the jury, citing the recent court case of William Cellini where a juror was found to have a criminal background. The judge denied the motion to investigate the case's anonymous jury, and that he regarded this idea as a "fishing expedition."

Just before Zambrano was handcuffed, he waved again to the gallery and looked around, giving head nods to those he knew before being led out of the courtroom.

Zambrano was among about 30 suspects indicted in 2008 or later charged in a superseding indictment. Most have either pleaded guilty or been convicted.