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SIXTEEN CHARGED IN SOUTH SUBURBAN DRUG SWEEP

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011— Thirteen alleged members of two separate drug distribution rings operating in Robbins and Harvey were arrested yesterday by agents and officers assigned to a federal task force, culminating a lengthy investigation which targeted illicit drug distribution in the south suburbs.  Three additional defendants remain at-large and are now the subject of a nationwide manhunt.

The charges were made public today by Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who was joined Thomas Dart, Cook County Sheriff;  Frederick W. Hayes, Chief of the Joliet, Illinois Police Department; and Timothy J. McCarthy, Chief of the Orland Park, Illinois Police Department in announcing the arrests.

The charges were contained in two separate criminal complaints filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, which were unsealed late yesterday, and which charged 12 Chicago area residents with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of heroin.   Four others were charged with violating state drug laws in charges filed in both Cook and Will County Circuit Courts.

According to one of the federal complaints, JOSE SANDOVAL, age 30, of 2136 East 221st Street in Sauk Village, is alleged to have supplied wholesale quantities of heroin to defendant NICHOLAS LACY, also known as (aka) “Pork”, age 32, of 21506 Peterson, also in Sauk Village, and who is alleged to have controlled a drug distribution operation based in Robbins, Illinois.

The federal complaint further alleges that SANDOVAL routinely    provided half pound and greater quantities of heroin to LACY, who would then re-package the drugs in individual user quantities, usually 0.1 gram bags, which were sold by LACY and members of his operation, in and around the vicinity of 138th Street and Kedvale in Robbins. The complaint alleges that LACY’s drug ring operated seven days a week, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and sold as much as $3,000 worth of heroin daily.

The second federal complaint charges ERIC RIDGNER, aka “Torry”, age 31, of 3459 Orchid Drive in Dyer, Indiana, with running a similar heroin distribution ring, which operated in Harvey, Illinois.  RIDGNER was allegedly supplied with wholesale amounts of heroin by LACY, which he also re-packaged and sold in individual user amounts, usually in 0.1 gram bags. The drugs were then sold by RIDGNER and members of his operation on the streets of the south suburb.

In announcing these charges, Mr. Grant noted the insidious nature of heroin, the use of which has reached unprecedented levels in the Chicago area. Said Mr. Grant, “Those charged this week in connection with this investigation were preying on the vulnerabilities of those with substance abuse problems, exploiting their addictions for their own personal gain.”

“The key targets of this investigation were major suppliers of drugs that not only destroyed lives, but destroyed neighborhoods – and most often, not neighborhoods where they lived,” Sheriff Dart said.  “The tentacles of their operations stretched from the most impoverished street corners to suburban luxury subdivisions.  It takes years of hard work to disrupt a distribution network that complex, but we’re under no illusions that the activity has simply stopped.  That’s why our investigation hasn’t stopped, either.”

Chief McCarthy added “The arrests made this week demonstrate once again the value of joint investigations and the continued need for standing task forces, such as the one which our department participates in with the FBI in the south suburbs.  Drugs and gangs are no longer confined to certain geographical areas or communities and the joint task force has been shown to be the most effective way to address this growing problem.”

Others charged in the federal complaints are identified as MARCUS GILLESPIE, age 21 of 14843 Edbrooke in Dolton; CANDICE JEFFRIES, age 23, of 15839 Lexington Avenue in Harvey; MICHAEL KNIGHT, age 44, of 16009 South Halsted in Harvey; CHUANICE LOVING, age 28, of 20158 Ash Lane in Lynwood; RESEAN RIDGNER, age 24, of 16235 South Ashland, Markham; DESMOND SCOTT, age 20, of 4121 West 138th Street in Robbins; LAWRENCE SCOTT, age 30, of 13753 Kildare in Midlothian; DERRICK THIGPEN, age 23, of 4134 West Midlothian Turnpike in Robbins; and CHERONDA WALLACE, age 24, of 2215 East 175th Street in Lansing.  MARCUS GILLESPIE, RESEAN RIDGNER and DESMOND SCOTT eluded capture and remain at-large.

Those arrested on state charges are identified as MILDRED GASSENSMITH, age 31, of 911 Campbell in Joliet; NEIL LESTER, age 30, of 16672 Beacon Lane in Orland Park; ALEXANDER LYS, age 18, of 525 Carla Drive in Shorewood; and WILLIAM WOODS, ager 26, of 16952 Blue Heron Drive in Orland Park.

This investigation, which was code named “Operation J Down”, was investigated jointly by the Chicago FBI’s South Suburban Violent Crimes Task Force, which is comprised of FBI Special Agents, Investigators from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and Officers from the Joliet and Orland Park Police Departments. The Cook and Will County State’s Attorneys offices also assisted with the investigation.

Court authorized electronic surveillance of several telephones used by the defendants in connection with their drug operations were used during the investigation and helped lead to the filing of the charges announced today. During the course of the investigation, nearly 500 individual packets of heroin and in excess of $200,000 in cash, which is suspected drug proceeds, were recovered.

All of those arrested on federal charges appeared before Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown in Chicago, late yesterday, at which time they were formally charged.  Six of the federal defendants were granted bond, while three others were ordered held without bond, pending their next court appearance, which is scheduled for Friday, February 11.  If convicted of the charges filed against them, the federal defendants in these cases face a possible sentence ranging from a mandatory minimum of five (5) years incarceration to a maximum of life in prison and a possible fine of up to $2 million.

Those arrested on state charges are scheduled to appear in bond court, later today. If convicted, they face a possible sentence of 1-3 years incarceration.

The public is reminded that a complaint is not evidence of guilt and that all defendants in a criminal case are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.   

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