They called themselves the "Beat-Down Posse," according to cops who were after them for years.
Authorities say they were a ruthless and brutal north Minneapolis gang that robbed drug dealers, sold guns and drugs and viciously beat members who got out of line or criminal associates who owed them money.
They allegedly used a bail bond business as a front, held weekly meetings they called "church," and graduated from street thuggery to mortgage schemes, fraudulently getting loans on houses that mysteriously burned to the ground.
For years the gang eluded major charges. That ended Thursday, when 14 felonies, including racketeering, were leveled against alleged posse founder Joseph Duane "Little Joe" Gustafson Jr., 36, and his bodyguard and alleged right-hand man, Troy Michael Neuberger, 38.
"We finally said, 'Enough's enough,'" said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. "It's time to charge one of [the] 'Mr. Bigs,' and we have."
The charges allege a litany of crimes going back to 2005. The pair are accused of extortion, assault, robbery, kidnapping and weapons and drug trafficking. The mortgage fraud allegedly netted nearly $300,000 in illicit payouts for Gustafson and his father, Joseph Gustafson Sr., an ex-Hell's Angel who ran Gustafson's Bail Bonds in north Minneapolis.
Gustafson Sr., 55, who was not charged, declined to comment Thursday. Freeman said the investigation isn't over, and he implied that others could be charged.
The county files racketeering charges only once a year on average, and the cases are difficult to prosecute, Freeman said, adding that he believes the evidence will hold up in this case.
The 23-page complaint against Gustafson and Neuberger is the result of a years-long investigation by Minneapolis police, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the IRS and FBI, officials said.
It includes information from at least eight witnesses, a wiretap and confidential informants -- some of whom are said to be former posse members.
Went on 'Hector missions'
The complaint said the gang went on "Hector missions," in which members broke into homes of suspected drug dealers, pretending to be searching for a bail-jumper named "Hector." Once inside, they beat and robbed the dealers, the charges say.
In one case, they allegedly lured a methamphetamine dealer to a North Side home, robbed him and fractured his skull.
Charges say they lured two others to a house, stripped them naked, robbed them and beat them for up to four hours. They allegedly threatened violence and death to coerce drug dealers to join their "team" and hand over a cut of their earnings.
They are accused of beating and stabbing one of their own members for being "out of touch" with the gang.
Police said they spent a lot of time trying to gather evidence for a case against members of the gang.
"They're very, very good at avoiding being prosecuted," said Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, whose investigator, Sgt. Kelly O'Rourke authored the complaint. "They're very slippery in a lot of ways."
City Council president Barb Johnson, who represents the Fourth Ward, said the Gustafsons weren't just dangerous--they were also bad neighbors. She said they kept vicious dogs and violated zoning laws with tall fences that prevented outsiders from seeing their activities.
"These folks have had a very long history in north Minneapolis, out terrorizing neighbors with the various crimes they'd commit," she said. "I can hardly count on my hands the things folks have been complaining about over the years."
Recruited for skills
The group was started by the younger Gustafson, and he and his father led it, charges said. Each of the dozen or so members were recruited for specific skills, including one who was a drug dealer. That member, charges said, helped identify other dealers the gang could extort through a "tax" of at least 10 percent.
The charges say Gustafson Jr. recruited four of the gang's associates to act as "straw buyers" of seven homes between 2005 and 2007. The gang allegedly falsified loan documents, pocketed most of the money and defaulted on six of seven loans. Two of the homes burned within a few months of the sales, and four went into foreclosure.
Freeman said the pair weren't charged with arson because it is difficult to prove. Dolan said the fires were what first drew serious police attention.
"We might not have gotten them for the arsons, but without them, they might not have gotten the attention that they got," Dolan said. "And they got a lot of attention."
Gustafson Jr. is charged with racketeering, terroristic threats, kidnapping, second-degree assault, three counts of third-degree narcotics sales, two counts of being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm and four counts of theft by swindle.
Neuberger is charged with racketeering, two counts of second-degree assault, terroristic threats and kidnapping.
Both were in the county jail. Bail was set at $1 million for Gustafson Jr. and $700,000 for Neuberger. Both were scheduled to make first court appearances Friday.
Freeman and Dolan would not say when additional charges could be filed, but Dolan implied that the gang's activities were even more extensive than what was alleged Thursday.
"You read that complaint, and it reads like a small novel," Dolan said. "Believe me, what they're involved in goes beyond even what you're reading."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921