A bomb-sniffing dog greeted visitors to the U.S. District Court building in downtown Minneapolis Monday, and extra guards were stationed on the 13th floor where three men went on trial in a racketeering conspiracy involving a notoriously violent Indian gang known as the Native Mob.
Inside Judge John Tunheim's courtroom, more than a dozen federal marshals kept a close watch over a gallery packed largely with federal prosecutors and investigators.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Schleicher set the stage for the jury of six men and 10 women in a dramatic opening statement.
On March 10, 2010, a 5-year-old American Indian girl held her father's hand as they walked along a road in Tract 34 of the Cass Lake area, he said. The girl had no idea that her father, Amos LaDuke, now 34, had been associated with the Native Mob gang.
"But Anthony Cree knew," Schleicher said, pointing out one of the defendants. Cree is known as "Pun" -- short for "Punisher" -- Schleicher said.
He said that Cree, 26, had lost his position as a ranking gang member and was seeking to get it back with an attack on LaDuke, who two years earlier had implicated another Native Mob member in another criminal case. LaDuke also had broken the jaw of the gang's "chief enforcer," insulting the gang, Schleicher said.
He said that defendant William Earl Morris, 25, was a soldier on a mission that day when he jumped out of a car wearing latex gloves and firing a .40-caliber pistol. LaDuke picked up his daughter and ran. But he dropped her as bullets slammed into him and he collapsed into a pool of his own blood, Schleicher said, showing pictures of the crime scene.
LaDuke told his daughter to run and she narrowly escaped injury, Schleicher said, showing a photo of a bullet hole in her backpack.
He said that Morris, known as "Odie," ran into the woods and was caught, but Cree got away that day. LaDuke survived and will testify in the case.
Schleicher displayed photos of 25 men he said were members of the Native Mob, which he described as a disciplined criminal organization with more than 200 members. The gang operated in Minnesota, Wisconsin and elsewhere, selling drugs and committing assaults, drive-by shootings and murder to silence witnesses and fend off rivals, he said.
Native Mob began in south Minneapolis in the 1990s as an offshoot of the Vice Lords, but gained prominence in the state's prisons. Schleicher identified defendant Wakinyon Wakan McArthur, also known as "Kon" or "Killa," as the highest-ranking member outside of prison. McArthur, 34, is the "Ogema," or chief, responsible for enforcing the gang's rules, he said.
McArthur took over that position from his brother, Wambli Ska McArthur, 38, and attempted to impose strict order on the members outside of prison, Schleicher said.
The case against the three defendants involves 11 counts and more than 70 "overt acts" that demonstrate a racketeering conspiracy, he said. The trial is expected to last several weeks and will include testimony from a number of insiders, some of whom wore "wires" to record the Native Mob's monthly meetings.
"You can't expect a tour in hell, however, to be guided by angels," Schleicher said.
Morris' attorney, Tom Shiah, reserved his right to make an opening statement until after the government rests its case. He told Tunheim that he will dispute the allegation that Morris was a member of the gang.
Defense attorneys Frederick Goetz, who represents McArthur, and John Brink, who represents Cree, acknowledged that their clients were Native Mob members. But they said no racketeering took place. Any crimes that were committed were random, unforeseeable, individual acts, they said.
The gang members grew up in poverty, surrounded by drug and alcohol abuse and exposed to violence, they said.
"They were really not raised. They just got bigger," Brink said.
Members of the gang lack the ability to run a racketeering organization, Goetz said.
"We're not talking about La Cosa Nostra. We're not talking about some corrupt political organization," he said. "We're talking about feral kids."
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493