Pubdate: Sat, 27 Aug 2011
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2011 Sun-Times Media, LLC
Author: Frank Main, Staff Reporter 


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

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

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

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

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." 
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