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Six CeaseFire workers charged with crimes in the past five years

Police tape an armored car robbery where an armed security guard shot killed one two suspects who were trying rob

Police tape at an armored car robbery, where an armed security guard shot and killed one of two suspects who were trying to rob the truck outside of the Family Dollar store at 3401 w Chicago. Friday, January 28, 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 6, 2012 9:59AM

Juan Johnson and Harold Martinez were street workers for the CeaseFire anti-violence group back in 2007. But on an August day that year, they were focused on a drug deal — and not on stopping shootings.

Johnson arranged for Martinez to sell a West Side gang leader two ounces of crack cocaine for $1,500. The gangster was an FBI informant — and Johnson and Martinez were later convicted of federal drug charges.

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel prepares to provide funding to CeaseFire to combat escalating shootings and murders in Chicago, law enforcement sources warn that Johnson and Martinez aren’t the only workers for the group who have run into problems with the law.

At least six people have been charged with committing crimes while on CeaseFire’s payroll over the past five years, according to records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Johnson, who was on CeaseFire’s payroll from 2006 to 2008, pleaded guilty in 2010 and was sentenced to probation.

He told the judge he arranged the drug deal to cement his relationship with the informant in trying to stop violence.

Later, Johnson apologized for his crime, saying: “CeaseFire doesn’t condone that, so it’s not CeaseFire’s, it’s my mistake. ... I disgraced them. I jeopardized a program that works.”

Martinez was hit with a 12-year prison term.

Johnson and Martinez were among more than 300 ex-offenders hired by CeaseFire over the past decade to mediate conflicts to prevent shootings. About 100 CeaseFire workers in Chicago currently intervene in violent disputes. The group recently received national prominence in the documentary, “The Interrupters.”

On Tuesday, police Supt. Garry McCarthy announced the city was planning to form a direct relationship with CeaseFire for the first time.

The Emanuel administration has not released any details about the proposed arrangement with CeaseFire, which is affiliated with the University of Illinois at Chicago.

But Tio Hardiman, director of CeaseFire Illinois, said the discussion involves the group working in the Grand-Crossing, Pullman and Ogden police districts and the city paying $1.5 million to fund as many as 75 workers. In the past, CeaseFire has received state, county and federal money but no city funding, he said.

Hardiman acknowledged some law enforcement officials are skeptical about CeaseFire.

“I do understand law enforcement’s concerns,” he said. “Here you have ex-offenders doing the work, and they used to be part of the problem.”

But Hardiman said felons like the ones he hires are best suited to “go into a dark basement where guys have guns and are possibly high on drugs — and stop a conflict.”

He said his workers mediated 223 conflicts between January and mid-May.

From Jan. 1 to Dec. 1, 2011, for example, there was a 44 percent decrease in homicides in the three police beats where CeaseFire was operating in the Harrison District on the West Side, Hardiman said. That work was done independently of the city and the police department.

A typical “interruption” happened at Ohio and Ridgeway a few weeks ago, Hardiman said. Stepsons were vowing to kill their stepfather for selling morphine that his sick wife was supposed to take, Hardiman said.

“We mediated the conflict right on Ohio Street,” he said.

But those success stories are blemished when employees break the law, Hardiman said. When CeaseFire employees are found to have committed crimes, they’re fired, he said.

Other active CeaseFire workers who have been charged with crimes in the past five years include:

◆ Rodney “Hot Rod” Phillips, a reputed Black Disciples gang member who was on CeaseFire’s payroll from 2009 through May 2011 and was allegedly selling heroin over that period. In April, he was charged in federal court with drug dealing.

◆ Clarence Jones, also charged in April with drug dealing. He was on the CeaseFire payroll from July 2011 to January. He allegedly was involved in a drug deal on Dec. 20.

◆ Kevin “Captain Kurt” Terry, a reputed Traveling Vice Lords member on the CeaseFire payroll in May and June 2009 who was charged in a federal drug conspiracy case in 2011. He was involved in drug trafficking from 2008 through early 2010, federal prosecutors said. Terry once delayed a drug deal to attend an anti-violence rally with CeaseFire, sources said.

◆ Louie Velasquez, arrested after an AK-47, a .38-caliber handgun, marijuana plants and drug paraphernalia were allegedly found in his home in 2007.

Law enforcement sources said the city should keep its distance from CeaseFire because of such cases.

But CeaseFire founder Gary Slutkin said the group has expanded to other U.S. and foreign cities — and its practices have been accepted in all of those places.

“These guys are heavily trained,” he said of CeaseFire workers. “No one goes out without at least 40 hours.”

Slutkin encouraged police officers to attend CeaseFire’s hiring sessions to flag anyone suspected of recent criminal activity.

He noted that those charged with crimes represent less than 2 percent of the more than 300 ex-offenders hired by CeaseFire in Chicago over the past decade.

“I think our record is pretty good on this,” he said.

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