Chicago gang rivals band together to control neighborhood drug trade
BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org August 27, 2011 12:08AM
A child runs past a building on S. Pulaski Rd. at W. Lexington St. Wednesday, August 24, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:27AM
At first glance, the intersection of Lexington and Pulaski doesn’t look very prosperous.
Ugly, empty lots anchor two of the corners. There’s a yellow-painted Dollar Store, ubiquitous in Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods. There’s a hair salon. And a storefront church where gospel music seeps outside, the only evidence of joy in the otherwise bleak landscape.
But in the shadows, business booms at Lexington and Pulaski — the heroin business.
Surprisingly, it’s not one of Chicago’s behemoth gangs that controls the market here on the West Side.
Instead, members of rival gangs — the Four Corner Hustlers, the Unknown Vice Lords, the Conservative Vice Lords, the Gangster Disciples and the New Breeds — sell drugs under the banner Syndicate Four.
Increasingly, members of rival gangs band together to control the narcotics sales around a single block.
Less common are gangs structured like corporations with a chairman giving orders down a chain of command to thousands of members in neighborhoods all over the city — and country. Many of those kingpins, such as Gangster Disciples leader Larry Hoover and Blackstone Rangers founder Jeff Fort, were locked up long ago in federal conspiracy cases.
The streets weren’t “safer when the [kingpins] were in charge, but it was more structured,” said Leo Schmitz, commander of the Chicago Police gang enforcement unit.
Authorities say there are more than 70,000 identified gang members in Chicago who belong to more than 70 traditional gangs such as the Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords and Latin Kings. But there are more than 300 independent factions — like Syndicate Four, Schmitz said.
By aligning with factions, individual gang members keep more money from drug sales than they do in traditional gangs, where gang leaders take a larger share of the profits.
“They are their own bosses now,” Schmitz said. “They are independent contractors.”
Some factions have been around for decades, but many others have formed in recent years, said Frank Diaz, superintendent of the Cook County Sheriff’s criminal intelligence unit.
“In the day, they would tell you, ‘I’m an Englewood GD,’ ” said Diaz, whose unit investigates gangs in the Cook County Jail. “Now they will say, ‘I’m from Squadville’ or ‘I’m with the Geek Squad’ or ‘Rock City’ or ‘Madville,’ ” — the names of various factions in the city.
Sheriff’s criminal intelligence investigator Franco Domma said one such faction, called 4-6 and Lawn, controls drug dealing at 46th and Woodlawn. The faction includes members of the Gangster Disciples, Black P Stones, Black Disciples, Mickey Cobras and other gangs, he said.
Faction members are using the latest technology to antagonize their rivals, something gang experts call “cyberbanging.”
One comment on a recent YouTube video called members of the Dro City faction “a bunch of GDs and BDs holding hands like some hos.”
Other messages on social-networking sites take credit for one faction shooting a member of another faction, Diaz said. Members of one faction will even target members of their own gang from a rival faction.
“We’re monitoring it all,” Domma said.
Once they’re in the jail, though, faction members align with traditional gangs like the GDs or Vice Lords to survive.
A member of the West Side faction called Syndicate Four spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times about his faction, which is older than many in the city. It was formed in 1992 after a squabble inside a traditional gang called the Four Corner Hustlers.
Syndicate Four controls the drug dealing around Lexington and Pulaski, but most of the older members have moved to the suburbs. They commute to the West Side to work, said the Syndicate Four member, who asked that his name not be used.
The intersection was a ghost town one day last week because a squad car was parked on a nearby corner to drive away drug dealers. The beat officers were assigned there because of several murders in the area this summer.
On a normal day, though, the Syndicate Fours sell heroin to everyone from junkies who pull off the Eisenhower Expy. to suburban teenagers who walk into the high-crime neighborhood from the CTA’s Green Line. The profits are huge — more than $9,000 a day, the Syndicate Four member said.
“It’s basically a money clique,” he said. “It’s all about the money.”
Some members of the faction have “Superman” tattoos, representing the “S” in Syndicate. But they don’t sport the Four Corner Hustlers’ traditional tattoo of a top hat and cane.
He confirmed that when he’s in jail, he affiliates with traditional street gangs for protection.
“On the street I’m Syndicate Four, but in the jail I’m a Four Corner Hustler,” he said.
The faction obtains heroin from Hispanic gang members connected to Mexican cartels, he said.
To make sure its customers aren’t actually cops, the faction conducts surveillance of the nearby police facility at Homan Square, sending a member to “eyeball” the covert cars that undercover narcotics officers are driving that day, he said.
If a lookout for the faction sees one of them approaching the block, “He calls over and says, ‘Shut it down, don’t serve nobody,’ ” the Syndicate Four member said, estimating the faction includes more than 30 members.
Faction members also check the arms of new customers for needle marks to see if they are heroin users — or possibly cops.
The walls of the office that Diaz and Domma share at the Cook County Jail are wallpapered with organizational charts of factions such as Syndicate Four. Each chart has mug shots of the members and their leaders.
“It’s always occurred on a small scale,” Diaz said of the factions. “But nothing like this. These guys are realizing more and more that there’s money to be made outside of your gang.”