Trial begins of 3 Native Mob gang membersby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
MINNEAPOLIS — A racketeering trial involving three members of a Native American gang began Monday in federal court.
The three men are members of the Native Mob, an organization the FBI describes as one of the largest and most violent American Indian gangs in the country.
Prosecutors say Wakinyon Wakan McArthur, 34, the head or the "chief" of the gang and two so-called soldiers, Anthony Francis Cree, 26, and William Earl Morris, 25, committed various crimes in order to support a well-organized enterprise. Twenty-two other gang members named in the superseding indictment have agreed to plea deals.
Federal prosecutors said gang members shared guns used to assault and kill rivals or informants. They said gang members also used money raised from selling illegal drugs to help fund the gang's activities.
In opening statements, assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Schleicher accused Cree and Morris of committing a drive-by shooting of Amos LaDuke, who they believed was informing on the gang to police. Schleicher said on March 4, 2010, LaDuke was walking with his five-year-old daughter along a rural Minnesota road when Morris and Cree pulled up in a car. Schleicher said Morris stepped out of the car and fired three shots into LaDuke, who tried to pick up his daughter and run.
"He dropped her and said, 'Run!" said Schleicher.
The girl was not physically injured, but a .40-caliber bullet was later found in her backpack. Schleicher said.
LaDuke survived the shooting and is expected to testify in the trial. Schleicher said a search of Morris' cell phone found that the last person he called before the shooting was McArthur.
According to the indictment, the Native Mob membership is estimated at more than 200, mostly young American Indian men. The gang's leader is known as the "Ogema," which is Ojibwe for chief. At trial, prosecutors presented a flowchart of the Native Mob organization. Under the chief is a co-chief, a war chief, enforcer and treasurer. The rest of the gang is made up of soldiers. Native Mob also holds regular monthly meetings.
"[It's] just like a football team," said Schleicher. "When one player kicks a field goal, the whole team gets a field goal."
Schleicher used a sports metaphor to help explain the government's basis for prosecuting the gang under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization statute, also known as RICO. To prove their case, prosecutors will have to show that members of the group committed criminal acts to benefit the organization.
Defense attorney John Brink, representing Anthony Cree, used a different organization as comparison, asking the jurors to imagine if a Boy Scout in California burned down a garage while a Boy Scout in another part of the country was caught stealing. That does not mean the Boy Scouts are a criminal enterprise, he said.
Brink added that his client has been in prison since spring of 2010. "So he couldn't conspire with anyone," he said.
Frederick Goetz is defending Wakinyon McArthur, who is also known as "Kon" or "Killa." Goetz said McArthur is not a kingpin of a criminal enterprise, but that McArthur's role is more akin to herding cats. Gang members come from communities ravished by drug abuse and poverty, Goetz said. He referred to them as "feral children" and "wild kids with guns," committing acts that were "random, isolated and unforeseen."
Goetz said the government's racketeering case is weak because they will not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that McArthur directed gang members to sell drugs, or commit acts of violence on behalf of the gang.
William Morris' attorney,Tom Shiah, declined to make an opening statement until after the prosecution rests its case.
The government is expected to call around 300 witnesses during the trial, which could last six weeks. Prosecutors said they will call ex-gang members to the stand, as well as use secretly recorded conversations at Native Mob meetings.