CHICAGO Nine members of a Chicago street gang called the "Hobos" face federal racketeering conspiracy charges stemming from drug sales, robberies and five murders, officials said on Thursday in announcing indictments after a six-year investigation.
The "Hobos" gang is from Chicago's South Side, which has been struggling with a spate of drug-related crimes and killings that have put pressure on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to crack down on the city's criminal gangs.
Gary Shapiro, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, told a news conference the Hobos used widespread violence to protect their drug business.
"This was an all-purpose gang," Shapiro said. "No community should have to live under this kind of siege."
The investigation into the gang began in 2007 and included agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service.
The conspiracy charges announced on Thursday accused four defendants of shooting to death five people from 2006 to 2009, including a person assisting the police investigation.
Defendants convicted of murder in aid of racketeering face a mandatory life sentence and potentially the death penalty. The other defendants face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Arraignments for all nine defendants will be held later.
Chicago is grappling with several high-profile shooting incidents this year, many on the South Side of the city involving gangs. Chicago had more than 500 murders last year, outpacing New York, which has three times the population of Chicago and reported 419 murders in 2012.
"By working together and bringing the resources of the federal government to bear on violent criminal networks, we can keep gangs, guns and drugs off of our streets," Mayor Emanuel said in a statement on the charges.
The announcement of charges came one week after 13 people were wounded in a gang-related shooting at a late night basketball game in a South Side park including a 3-year-old boy.
Four men have been charged with attempted murder for the shooting. Police said evidence indicated that an assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine was used in the attack.
One Chicago murder this year which caught national attention was of Hadiya Pendleton, 15, an honor student killed at a park just days after she performed at a January inauguration event in Washington for U.S. President Barack Obama.
Crime is one of several issues confronting Emanuel. Chicago faces large and growing pension liabilities and Emanuel's former senior finance official was recently indicted in Ohio, sparking an investigation of the official's dealings in Chicago.
(Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by David Bailey, Edith Honan and Andrew Hay)