MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Three alleged members of a violent American Indian gang known for terrorizing people in the Upper Midwest were convicted on several charges Tuesday in what authorities called one of the largest gang cases to come out of Indian Country.
An alleged lead of the Native Mob, 34-year-old Wakinyon Wakan McArthur, was found guilty on several charges including racketeering conspiracy. But he was acquitted on an attempted murder charge that stemmed from the shooting of another man that prosecutors say McArthur ordered but defense attorneys dispute.
Two alleged gang "soldiers" — Anthony Francis Cree, 26, and William Earl Morris, 25 — were convicted of charges including attempted murder in aid of racketeering. Morris was the only defendant cleared on the racketeering charge.
Authorities said the men participated in a criminal enterprise that used intimidation and violence to keep the gang in power. The three men are the only defendants who didn't accept plea deals after 25 people were originally charged in a 57-count indictment. Prosecutors have said the case is important not only because of its size, but because the racketeering charge is a tool rarely used against gangs, indicating the case is an attempt to take down the entire enterprise.
But defense attorneys told jurors during closing arguments that the government's case was overblown, and that while gang members may have committed individual crimes, there was no evidence to support racketeering charges that allege the trio was part of a large, organized criminal group.
A sentencing date has not yet been set, but all three men face a maximum of between 20 years and life in prison, according to the attorney general's office.
The 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment called the Native Mob one of the largest and most violent American Indian gangs in the U.S., most active in Minnesota and Wisconsin but also in Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota. It is made up of mostly American Indian men and boys, and started in Minneapolis in the 1990s as members fought for turf to deal drugs. The Native Mob is also active in prison.
The Native Mob has about 200 members, with a structure that includes monthly meetings where members were encouraged to assault or murder enemies, or anyone who showed disrespect, the indictment said. Authorities said McArthur was a "chief" of the Native Mob, and directed other members to carry out beatings, shootings and other violent acts to intimidate rivals.
Prosecutors said that in 2010, Morris tried to kill a man by shooting him multiple times while he was with his 5-year-old daughter. The indictment said the shooting was done at McArthur's bidding.
Although McArthur was cleared of the attempted murder charge stemming from that allegation, jurors also convicted him of distributing and conspiracy to distribute drugs and using a firearm in a violent crime. He was acquitted of assault with a dangerous weapon in the aid of racketeering and using a firearm in a violent crime.
Along with the attempted murder charge, Cree also was convicted of racketeering conspiracy, assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, using a firearm in a violent crime and conspiracy to distribute drugs. Morris also was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, using a firearm in a crime of violence and being a felon in possession of a firearm, but he was acquitted of racketeering conspiracy and conspiring to use firearms in a violent.
In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter told jurors there is no question the Native Mob is a criminal enterprise, complete with rules, defined roles and bylaws. He said the gang's racketeering activity included drug trafficking, attempted murder, murder and witness retaliation.
"When you have a criminal organization, witnesses become a problem," Winter said. "To make money, the reputation of the Native Mob has to be intact, and when the reputation is threatened, it has to be protected."
Frederick Goetz, McArthur's attorney, said during closing arguments that the case was one of monumental overreach.
Christopher Grant, a national Native American gang specialist in South Dakota, has said there are hundreds of American Indian gangs nationwide. Most, he said, are loosely organized and might have as few as five members.
"I consider Native Mob to be the most organized, violent and predatory street gang structure in Indian Country," Grant told The Associated Press in January. "There are many other Native American gangs ... but Native Mob stands out in terms of their victimization of Native American people in both tribal and non-tribal communities."
The trial, which began in January, included nearly 1,000 exhibits and 180 witnesses.