The boss of the Chicago-based Latin Kings street gang was sentenced Thursday to 60 years in prison following his conviction last year on federal charges of racketeering and drug trafficking, in which he used murder, attempted murder, assault and extortion to protect his turf.
Augustin Zambrano, 51, a "Corona" of the "Almighty Latin King Nation," oversaw the illegal activities of all factions of the powerful street gang with some 10,000 members in Illinois alone. He has been in federal custody since 2009 and must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence.
During sentencing, U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle in Chicago cited Zambrano's extensive criminal record of violent offenses and his lack of remorse for the victims.
The Latin Kings have operated in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia for the past several years.
"This investigation has held to hold the leaders of the Latin Kings like Zambrano responsible for their iron-fisted leadership of a criminal enterprise responsible for murders and attempted murders," said U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald. "As the CEO of this gang, Zambrano bears responsibility for its criminal acts."
Prosecutors said Zambrano "chose violence at every turn," adding that "the message he sent out through his words and actions was that violence was the only path that mattered." They said violence was carried out by his trusted lieutenants, including Fernando King and Vicente Garcia, who were responsible for murders, attempted murders, shootings and beatings. Zambrano did not carry out any of this violence by himself.
"He was insulated. He was behind the scenes. He entrusted others to do it. He put leaders in place who shared his vision ... to see to it that Latin Kings acted barbarically," prosecutors said. "In many cases, the soldiers for whom the defendant and other leaders of the Latin Kings are responsible were simply boys who killed or were killed."
Convicted with Zambrano were Jose Guzman, former "Nation Enforcer" in the Little Village faction, who was sentenced last month to 35 years in prison. Mr. Garcia, the "Supreme Regional Inca," who was in charge of all Latin Kings in Illinois, and Alphonso Chavez, the "Inca," or leader of the gang's Drake faction, are awaiting trial.
King, who preceded Mr. Garcia as Supreme Regional Inca, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in October to 40 years in prison. Evidence included audio and video recordings of three beatings of gang members for violating rules and testimony documenting 20 shootings, including at least one in which the victim died.
The four defendants were among 31 indicted in September 2008 or charged in a superseding indictment in October 2009. Twenty-four have since pleaded guilty, four were convicted at trial, and three remain fugitives.
From its origin and base, the Latin Kings spread throughout Chicago and Illinois and established branches in other states, where local leaders acted with some autonomy but adhered to the rules and hierarchy of the Chicago gang.
Zambrano is the highest-ranking leader of the Latin Kings to be convicted since Gustavo "Gino" Colon, who also holds the title of "Corona" and is serving a life sentence imposed in 2000 for running a continuing criminal enterprise.
The Latin Kings are one of several U.S. street gangs who have formed alliances with Mexican drug cartels to help tighten their stranglehold on the U.S. narcotics market, involving much of this country's illicit cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana trade. The Mexican cartels give the U.S. street gangs a ready market for drugs, allowing them to flood the streets with less-expensive drugs by cutting out midlevel wholesale dealers.
The Latin Kings in Texas purchase cocaine directly from Mexican traffickers for $16,000 to $18,000 a kilogram, then ship the drugs to Chicago, where it would cost the gang nearly $30,000 more to purchase a kilogram of cocaine from a midlevel wholesaler.
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