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Indictments curb motorcycle gang’s cross-country crime wave

Anthony 'Blade' Robins26 Chicago was sentenced life priswithout possibility parole for murder. He also was sentenced life for racketeering conspiracy.

Anthony "Blade" Robinson, 26, of Chicago, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for murder. He also was sentenced to life for racketeering conspiracy. He is a member of the Wheel of Soul motorcycle gang — the target of a federal investigation that led to convictions of two dozen of the gangs' members from across the country. | Provided photo

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Updated: May 29, 2013 7:55AM

Thomas Tatum liked riding his motorcycle when he wasn’t working with troubled kids.

Then, in 2009, he crossed paths with the Wheels of Soul. A member of the motorcycle gang fatally shot Tatum in the back outside a club on the West Side.

Last week, Tatum’s killer, Anthony Robinson, 26, of Chicago, was sentenced to life in prison — closing a nationwide investigation of the Wheels of Soul, a little-known motorcycle gang based in Philadelphia that authorities say was responsible for a cross-country crime wave.

They say the predominantly African-American gang was involved in murders, kidnapping, drug-dealing, gun-trafficking and bomb-making.

Before federal authorities took on the Wheels of Soul with the 2011 indictment, a documentary that aired on PBS in 2005 had helped to maintain a positive image for the biker gang with this assessment: “These bikers do not push drugs, terrorize small towns or lie in wait for little old ladies. Instead, they terrorize pushers, pimps and gang members who plague their inner-city neighborhoods.”

Robinson and a handful of other Chicago members of the biker gang were among 18 defendants from across the country to receive prison terms in a case prosecuted in St. Louis. Wheels of Soul members also have been prosecuted in federal court in Chicago.

The Chicago Police Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducted the investigation here. Authorities said the cases dismantled the leadership of the motorcycle gang, but members on the street continue to pose a threat.

“We will continue our enforcement efforts to bring these criminals to justice,” said Tom Ahern, an ATF spokesman.

Tatum’s sister, Aretha Tatum, said she was glad to learn someone has been held responsible for his slaying. A Chicago Sun-Times reporter informed her of Robinson’s life sentence.

“Justice being served — I am excited and happy for that,” Tatum said. “But it doesn’t change what I have to deal with losing my brother.”

Authorities said they don’t believe Tatum was involved in any criminal activity, just a man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tatum was a member of a motorcycle-riding social group Brothers Keepers. Someone in Brothers Keepers had angered Myron Farris, a leader of the Wheels of Soul, at a Halloween party in the 4200 block of West Division.

For revenge, Farris gave Robinson a sawed-off shotgun to kill a Brothers Keepers member, prosecutors said.

Tatum, who attended the party, was on the sidewalk outside the club when he was shot. Robinson fired at Tatum from the window of a passing vehicle, police said.

“We don’t believe he was an intended target,” a source said.

Six months later, Farris was killed in Chicago. That case remains unsolved.

Tatum, 39, was a youth supervisor at an Illinois Department of Corrections facility on the West Side. After his death, his family got letters from young men who knew Tatum from there, according to his sister.

“Their letters would say, ‘Mr. Tatum was so amazing,’ ” his sister said. “He had an awesome sense of humor. Even though they were in a bad situation, he could encourage them.”

After Tatum’s death, Robinson would kill again.

On Jan. 2, 2011, he and other Wheels of Soul members attended a party in the 100 block of West 75th St. where he picked a fight with a member of Street Soldiers, another motorcycle gang. When Robinson pulled a gun, the Street Soldiers member fired his weapon and missed. Robinson shot Bryant Glass and Emmitt Suddoth, killing them both, authorities said.

Then, on March 6, 2011, Robinson shot and killed a 32-year-old Chicago man, Javell Thornton, outside the clubhouse of the Undenied Riders in Marion, Ohio, prosecutors said.

Later that month, a county road crew worker found the murder weapon in a sewer and called the police. Tests determined the gun was used in the shooting. And the serial number on the gun was the same as the serial numbers inscribed on two 9mm ammunition magazines found in a search of Robinson’s home in Chicago, authorities said.

In addition to the killings, the investigation exposed the motorcycle gang’s trafficking of guns and explosives and crack-cocaine deals.

One Wheels of Soul member was caught in Kentucky with explosive materials and fuses authorities said he planned to bring to Chicago to make pipe bombs the gang intended to use on rivals.

And gang member Curtis Johns sold a fully automatic rifle and other weapons to a government informant in 2010, authorities said. The machine gun had been stolen from a U.S. Customs warehouse in Alabama in 2001, records showed.

In 2011, ATF agents got a surprise when they stopped Jerry Elkins, a Wheels of Soul member, for a traffic violation in Chicago. The agents found a loaded pistol on Elkins, which they expected. The surprise came when Elkins offered the agents $260 and his gun in exchange for his freedom, authorities said. Elkins thought the ATF agents were corrupt Chicago cops.

As part of their investigation, the ATF agents took the bribe and let Elkins go, which he later discussed on a secret recording, authorities said. Elkins was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison.

Meanwhile, Jerry L. Peteet, 50, once a well-known criminal defense attorney in Gary, was sentenced last week to 23 years for his role as a member of the Wheels of Soul. As a lawyer, Peteet once represented a Gary woman who claimed boxer Mike Tyson assaulted her in 1996.

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