Saturday, November 3, 2007

Busting gang members, Mafia style

Don't forget to set your clocks back -- and get an extra hour to read this Sunday’s Bradenton Herald.

You’ll find an examination of the affordable housing market in Manatee, stories on festivities ranging from the Snooty gala to the Taste of Manatee (which continues Sunday), Parade magazine, arts coverage, a look at the interior design business, a near-final look at Bradenton’s mayoral race, and plenty of college football.

But the story I found the most intriguing is by reporter Natalie Neysa Alund, who explores how Manatee County law enforcement officials have opened a new arsenal against illegal gangs in our community. And they’re the first in the state of Florida to try this:

Gang members are being prosecuted through state racketeering laws — modeled after the federal Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act created in 1970. In the first months used in Manatee County, 23 members of two criminal street gangs have been arrested.

As Natalie reports:
For years, the government tried tackling illegal gangs by taking gang members to court one at a time. And, just like the classic mob cases, witnesses would disappear or refuse to testify against the gang members.
Case dismissed.
So prosecutors, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement decided to try using RICO laws. With racketeering charges, cases can be prosecuted without the testimony of witnesses and victims. That solves one of the biggest problems prosecutors have in attempting to convict gang members…

Why Manatee? Because the public has never been more aware of the growing threat of gangs since the Easter gang shootings on Coquina Beach and the shooting death last May of 9-year-old Stacy Williams III.

The RICO approach is not without its critics, and Natalie talks to them, as well. It’s a compelling report.

And, for the sleuths in you, one of the area’s top fugitives was caught in the past week, thanks to CrimeStoppers. There’s also a new suspect being sought on charges of attempted murder. See our report exclusively on Page 4C.


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