El Rukns Convicted of Conspiracy
CHICAGO (AP) _ A federal jury convicted five members of the notorious El Rukn street gang Tuesday of conspiring to blow up airplanes and government buildings as part of a terrorism-for-hire scheme to win $2.5 million from Libya.
The jury in U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle’s courtroom returned the verdict after six days of deliberation, which followed a five-week trial.
Jeff Fort, El Rukn leader, and co-defendants Leon McAnderson, Reico Cranshaw, Alan Knox and Roosevelt Hawkins had contended the El Rukns were a religious organization that planned no violence and met with the Libyans only to raise money for a mosque.
Sentencing was set for Dec. 29. Fort faces a maximum of 260 years in prison, McAnderson and Cranshaw up to 190 years, Knox up to 130 years, and Hawkins up to 25 years.
″The verdict represents the product of 2 1/2 years of very hard work and extraordinary efforts″ by agents of the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Bogart, lead prosecutor in the case.
″The agents brought down a well-organized and very dangerous group,″ she added. ″I think it’s a just and very fair verdict.″
Another assistant U.S. attorney, John Podliska, said it was the first time U.S. citizens had been convicted of conspiring to commit terrorist acts in the United States for a foreign government in exchange for money.
Defense attorneys said they would file motions for a new trial and if that failed, appeal the verdict.
″Jeff Fort is a very confident man. He is at peace with himself,″ said Fort’s attorney, Terry Gillespie. ″He was disappointed with the verdict but he showed very little emotion.″
Fort masterminded the conspiracy through scores of telephone calls from a Texas prison over a four-month period, while he was serving time on cocaine charges, prosecutors said.
Federal authorities said the gang initiated the contact with the Libyans and that none of the terrorist acts discussed in tape-recorded conversations ever took place. Nor was any payment ever made by Libya, prosecutors said.
Originally, seven members of the El Rukns, once described by police as among the nation’s deadliest and most sophisticated street gangs, were charged in the plot.
Gang member Trammell Davis, who formerly served as security chief for the gang, entered into a plea agreement before the trial and became a key prosecution witness.
In addition to testifying against his co-conspirators, Davis served as a translator for the elaborate code gang members used during telephone conversation.
For example, gang members referred to money as ″color,″ Washington, D.C., as the ″the Big Actor,″ an apparent reference to President Reagan, and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi as ″young friend.″
A seventh gang member, Melvin Mayes, is a fugitive and authorities say he fled to Libya.
Fort was found guilty on all 50 counts in the indictment, which alleged conspiracy, interstate or foreign travel or use of the telephone in furtherance of the conspiracy, and weapons charges.
Both McAnderson and Cranshaw were convicted of conspiracy and weapons violations and 31 of the 45 counts dealing with interstate travel or use of the telephone.
Knox was found guilty of conspiracy and weapons violations and 19 of the 45 counts dealing with interstate travel or use of the telephone.
Hawkins, who was named in only five counts of the indictment, was found guilty of conspiracy, interstate travel or telephone use, and a single weapons charge.
Attorney Kent Brody, who represented Knox, said he thought his client would appeal.
″The jury did a good job. ... We had a tough case,″ he said.
According to the indictments, several members of the gang traveled to Libya, Panama and several other locations and offered ″their services″ to Libyan representatives in 1986, hoping to get as much as $2.5 million in exchange.