MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Three alleged members of an American Indian gang known for terrorizing people in the Upper Midwest were part of a criminal enterprise in which members dealt drugs, attacked informants and used other violent tactics to maintain the gang and its reputation, federal prosecutors said during closing arguments Tuesday in the men's trial.
But defense attorneys told jurors in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis that the government's case was overblown, and that while gang members may have committed individual crimes, there was no evidence to support racketeering charges that allege the trio was part of a large, organized criminal group.
Wakinyon Wakan McArthur, the alleged leader of the Native Mob, "is as much a leader of that group as anyone trying to herd a bunch of cats," said his defense attorney, Frederick Goetz. "You are dealing with feral, wild kids, frequently high on drugs and alcohol."
McArthur, 34, and two of the gang's alleged "soldiers," Anthony Francis Cree, 26, and William Earl Morris, 25, are being tried on several charges, including conspiracy to participate in racketeering and attempted murder in the aid of racketeering. The attempted murder charge stems from the shooting of another man, which prosecutors say McArthur ordered but defense attorneys dispute.
The three men are the only defendants who didn't accept plea deals after 25 people were originally charged in a 57-count indictment. Prosecutors have said the case is important not only because of its size, but because the racketeering charge is a tool rarely used against gangs, indicating the case is an attempt to take down the entire enterprise. Authorities have called it one of the largest gang cases to come out of Indian Country.
In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter told jurors there is no question the Native Mob is a criminal enterprise, complete with rules, defined roles and bylaws. He said the gang's racketeering activity included drug trafficking, attempted murder, murder and witness retaliation.
"When you have a criminal organization, witnesses become a problem," Winter said. "To make money, the reputation of the Native Mob has to be intact, and when the reputation is threatened, it has to be protected."
According to the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, the Native Mob is one of the largest and most violent American Indian gangs in the U.S., and is most active in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but also operates in Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota. It is made up of mostly American Indian men and boys, and started in Minneapolis in the 1990s as members fought for turf to deal drugs. The gang also is active in prison.
During his closing argument, Goetz said the entire case was a "monumental" example of over-reaching. Goetz conceded that the Native Mob exists, and that McArthur is a member. But he said just because crimes are committed by individual gang members, whom he said have impulse-control problems, it doesn't mean those crimes have anything to do with McArthur.
Goetz told jurors the defendants come from poverty, a lack of family structure, and lives fraught with violence, and drug and alcohol abuse. He said the Native Mob was formed to protect members, and McArthur brought structure to stop members from killing each other.
John Brink, Cree's attorney, said his client was innocent and the government didn't prove Cree was a gang member. He said the case was "the most chickenfeed RICO prosecution that's ever been brought," referencing the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal law designed to target organized crime.
Morris' attorney, Thomas Shiah, said his client wasn't a Native Mob member and therefore couldn't be part of the alleged racketeering conspiracy. He said Morris acted on his own when he threw scalding water in one man's face and shot at another man, who was with his 5-year-old daughter at the time.
Winter, the prosecutor, said Morris carried out the shooting because "he needed a jewel to put in his crown."
Shiah alleged Native Mob insiders who testified at trial knew "zip, zero" about Morris, and that Morris did not deal drugs, have gang tattoos, or attend gang council meetings. He also alleged the trial was the government's "attempt to eradicate and eliminate a small segment of the Native American population."
And all three defense attorneys said the government's witnesses included known criminals, who lied to get a better deal.
Winter said the government makes no apologies for enforcing RICO laws, and any allusion to racism by the defense is merely an attempt to distract jurors. He also acknowledged the government did "not have angels as witnesses" but that witness testimony should be considered with all the other evidence.
The trial, which began in January, included nearly 1,000 exhibits and 180 witnesses.
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