Forty-eight alleged members of the Gangster Disciples, a Chicago-based gang operating in at least 24 states, were charged with racketeering offenses including murder, extortion, drug trafficking and credit card fraud, according to John Horn, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.
"The Gangster Disciples are a highly organized and ruthless gang that recognizes no geographical boundaries," said Britt Johnson, head of the FBI's Atlanta field office. "Its members have for too long indiscriminately preyed upon and infected the good people of our communities like a cancer."
Johnson said gang members legitimized themselves in their communities by organizing ostensibly altruistic endeavors such as food drives to feed the homeless, and, in a sinister twist, "stop the violence" rallies.
The gang is administered with such merciless order that Johnson said one recruit was killed when he failed to show for a neighborhood cleanup event organized by the Disciples.
"The Gangster Disciples commit crime wherever they find the opportunity," said Lesley Caldwell, a prosecutor with the Department of Justice's criminal division. "They are a very violent gang."
Highly organized crime
Court documents revealed a highly organized, byzantine structure -- one that included meetings, written applications, membership dues and a "board of directors."
There were even regular conference calls with a national call-in number, according to the indictment.
"Not too many (gang members) possess the wherewithal to run an organization year in and year out, generation after generation, such as the Gangster Disciples," said Caldwell.
The indictment also reflected the group's lofty aspirations beyond criminal enterprise.
"The Gangster Disciples maintain a hierarchical structure on the belief that the enterprise will be ready to step in and run the United States should its government fail," said the indictment.
Among those charged were "governors," "board members," "enforcers" and a former DeKalb County, Georgia, police officer who "admitted that he had killed people as a 'hitman' for the Gangster Disciples," according to the indictment.
DeKalb Police Chief James Conroy said he was saddened to learn that a former officer was allegedly moonlighting as a Gangster Disciple, but reminded reporters that his department was one of the agencies involved in their takedown.
"There are bad apples in every organization," Conroy said. "And he was a bad apple."
Three still at-large
Authorities said Wednesday's indictments marked the culmination of a three-year investigation by law enforcement agencies that spanned several states.
All but three of the 48 charged in the twin indictments were in custody by Wednesday afternoon, according to a Department of Justice release.
Horn said most will go before a judge on Wednesday for an initial appearance.