An investigation into what seemed like a routine murder case in 2017 broadened into a multi-state, multi-agency crackdown on the Latin Dragons street gang, which operates in Chicago, the city’s southern suburbs and the Northwest Indiana cities of Hammond, Gary and East Chicago.
The scope of the effort, announced Friday at a press conference at the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Hammond, led to arrests of 17 members of the gang, and involved detectives in Chicago, Cook County and Lake County, Ind. The FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assisted.
The investigation culminated with this week’s arrests of Alec Aguilar and Justin Anaya for the 2017 killing of 10-year-old Gustavo Garcia.
The boy had been riding in the back seat of an SUV traveling on the Southeast Side Chicago when a gray Chevrolet Impala pulled up. Investigators allege Aguilar and Anaya opened fire.
Gracia was struck in the head and died at a hospital a short time later.
“This homicide spurred this federal investigation,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana Tom Kirsch said at a press conference at the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Hammond.
Federal prosecutors allege that Aguilar, 20, and Anaya, 18, both of Chicago, are members of the Latin Dragons and both charged in Garcia’s death. Fifteen other alleged members of the Latin Dragons street gang were indicted.
Kirsh said the investigation shows how little regard the street gangs have for the line that divides Indiana and Illinois.
“Gang activity does not stop at the state line, and neither do our investigations and prosecutions. Gangs terrorize our neighborhoods and put innocent lives at grave risk,” Kirsch said. “Gang members should not get comfortable in the Northern District of Indiana. We will never tolerate gang violence.”
The charges filed Friday include murder, attempted murder, witness tampering and assult all in an effort to protect the gang’s territory in crimes committed from 2008 to 2017.
Lake County, Ind., Prosecutor Bernard Carter says it’s important to have the backing of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in combating stateline gang crime.
“Their whole process is to jump across the state line, commit these crimes. They think if they can grab members from Indiana, make them part of their gang, then the ones from Chicago can protect themselves,” Carter said. “They think that will stifle the investigation.”
Reporter Michael Puente covers Northwest Indiana for WBEZ. Follow him @MikePuenteNews.