Five young members of a St. Paul street gang suspected of carrying out numerous shootings as part of a turf war with rivals were indicted Thursday on federal weapons charges.
The indictment centers on the defendants' Hit Squad gang and is part of law enforcement's "strategy to combat gang violence in our state," U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said Thursday in announcing the charges in concert with St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell and Jim Modzelewski, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Minnesota.
The Hit Squad members committed armed robbery, burglary, theft, dealt illicit drugs and carried out other violent crimes in order to buy guns, according to prosecutors. When not buying firearms, they're stealing them or trading drugs for them, authorities said.
Axtell said that the mix of "gang and gun violence is an insidious problem that rips at the fabric of our community."
The five defendants, ranging in age from 19 to 22, "conspired to illegally possess at least 14 handguns from mid-2014 until this week," the announcement from the U.S. attorney's office read.
The defendants are: Damarius "Boss Sleep" Gilbert, 20; Tyvion "Tavi" Benson, 22; John "King Savage" Epps, 21; Kendall "Tinki" Pruitt, 19; and Michael "Mike Mike" Trevino, 21. Gilbert, Trevino and Benson are in custody. Epps and Pruitt remain at large.
For more than two years, the Hit Squad has been in a gang war with various rivals, including the Ho's and Money Crazy gang.
"This gang war has resulted in the shooting of several gang members of both sides of the conflict," the U.S. attorney's statement read.
The five defendants participated in drive-by shootings and other shoot-outs in St. Paul. They had firearms near the Arlington Hills Recreation Center in St. Paul, in common areas outside of apartment complexes and while driving around various neighborhoods.
"This indictment is part of an innovative strategy to combat gang violence in our state," Luger said. "Working with our partners at the ATF and St. Paul Police Department, prosecutors from this office are going after the gang members and their illegal guns."
The ATF's Modzelewski said, "Our goal is to significantly reduce or eliminate gang violence in St. Paul and other communities in our area of responsibility."