United States v. Brown

Decision Date28 August 2020
Docket Number17-2899,17-2877,17-2917,17-2918,17-3063,17-2858,& 17-3449,Nos. 17-1650,17-2854,17-2931,s. 17-1650
Citation973 F.3d 667
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Byron BROWN, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Andrianna D. Kastanek, Attorney, Office of the United States Attorney, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Gregory T. Mitchell, Attorney, Law Office of Gregory T. Mitchell, P.C., Homewood, IL, for Defendant-Appellant Byron Brown.

Steve A. Greenberg, Attorney, Steven A. Greenberg and Associates, LTD., Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellant William Ford.

Erika L. Bierma, Attorney, Axley Brynelson LLP, Madison, WI, for Defendant-Appellant Gabriel Bush.

Patrick W. Blegen, Attorney, Blegen & Garvey, Chicago, IL, Lisa Lundell Wood, Attorney, Lisa Wood Law, LLC, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellant Paris Poe.

Paul Durbin Geiger, Attorney, Law Offices of Paul D. Geiger, Northfield, IL, for Defendant-Appellant Derrick Vaughn.

Joshua Herman, Attorney, Law Office of Joshua G. Herman, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellant Stanley E. Vaughn.

Molly E. Armour, Attorney, Law Office of Molly Armour, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellant Arnold Council.

Beau B. Brindley, Blair T. Westover, Attorneys, Law Offices of Beau B. Brindley, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellant Gregory Chester.

Rodney Jones, pro se.

Before Sykes, Chief Judge, and Wood and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.

Wood, Circuit Judge.

This case offers a window into the violent and ruthless world of the Hobos street gang, which operated in Chicago from 2004 to 2013. With the credo, "The Earth is Our Turf," the Hobos worked to build their street reputation and control certain areas on Chicago's south side. Ten gang members were charged and convicted for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, among other crimes. Nine of those defendants have joined in the present appeals: Byron Brown, Gabriel Bush, Gregory Chester, Arnold Council, William Ford, Rodney Jones, Paris Poe, Derrick Vaughn, and Stanley Vaughn. We find no reversible error in the convictions for any of the defendants. Nor do we find any error in any of the sentences, except for Chester's, which must be revisited.


The defendants now before us were the core group that formed the Hobos. Although the Hobos did not have a structure as firmly hierarchical as that found in many gangs, it did have a leader (Chester) and senior members (Council, Bush, and Poe). Most members had roots in other gangs, such as the Gangster Disciples (GDs) and Black Disciples (BDs).

We need not recount all of the Hobos’ multifarious criminal activities. We focus instead on the specific incidents the government emphasized at trial. Where necessary, we include further details. Generally speaking, those activities fell into three broad categories: drug trafficking, murder (including attempted murder), and robbery.

Drug Trafficking . The Hobos ran many drug lines throughout Chicago's south side. Defendant Bush managed two heroin lines, known as "Cash Money" (identifiable by the baggies’ green dollar signs) and "X-Men" (identifiable by the red Xs on the baggies). Ford and others sold the Cash Money line at 47th Street and Vincennes Avenue, and Hobo-associate Kevin Montgomery sold Cash Money at 51st Street and Martin Luther King Drive. Members of another gang known as Met Boys sold X-Men at 51st Street and Calumet Drive. Bush also had a drug line at the Ida B. Wells housing project.

Council and other Hobos oversaw drug lines at the Robert Taylor Homes, selling "Pink Panther" marijuana and crack cocaine (so named for the Pink Panther logo on their baggies). Derrick Vaughn (to whom we refer as Derrick, to differentiate him from his brother and co-defendant, to whom we refer as Stanley) sold cocaine at 47th and Vincennes. The Hobos also supplied drugs to each other: Council provided marijuana and crack cocaine to various Hobos, and Chester supplied heroin.

Murders and Attempted Murders . The Hobos liberally used violence to retaliate against rival gangs, harm people who cooperated with law enforcement, and defend their drug trafficking territory. The Hobos had long-running rivalries with several other gangs, including the BDs and associated BD factions such as New Town and Fifth Ward, the Row GDs, and the Gutterville Mickey Cobras. These rivalries precipitated numerous shootings.

For example, in April 2006, Fifth Ward BD Cordale Hampton and his uncle were driving when they were shot at by a passenger in a car driven by Stanley. Both were hit—Hampton on his neck, side, leg, and arm, and his uncle on his head—but both survived. Two months later, in June 2006, Chester was leaving his girlfriend's apartment, which was located in the New Town BDs’ territory, when he was shot (amazingly not fatally) 19 times. In September 2006, occupants of a car shot at Chester while he was at a southside car wash. The bullets struck him but did not kill him, and Poe fired back at the car to protect Chester. Chester, believing the BDs were responsible for these shootings, put out a $20,000 bounty on the leader of the New Town BDs, Antonio Bluitt. The bounty, however, did not intimidate Bluitt. Instead, Bluitt announced a retaliatory bounty on Chester and Council, sparking more violence.

In February 2007, Derrick was at a local Hobos hangout, a barbershop, when he saw Fifth Ward BD Devin Seats outside a nearby shop. Derrick opened fire, hitting Seats multiple times. In June 2007, while riding in a car with Ford, Council, and Chad Todd (a Hobo-turned-cooperator), Bush shot at Bluitt-associate Andre Simmons and Simmons's cousin Darnell. He hit them several times, causing Andre to lose an eye. Later that month, Bush, Todd, and the Vaughn brothers shot New Town BD Jonte Robinson nine times as he was walking into a daycare center to pick up his son.

In July of the same year, Bush, Ford, and Todd spotted several teenagers they thought were Fifth Ward BDs. Bush and Ford shot the teenagers, striking one of them in the face. The Hobos were mistaken: the victims had no gang affiliation. A month later, Council and Bush shot New Town BD Eddie Jones.

In September 2007, Bush, Council, Derrick, Ford, Stanley, and others made good on Chester's bounty by killing Bluitt and Fifth Ward BD Gregory Neeley in a drive-by ambush. Bluitt, Neeley, and others were sitting in a Range Rover after leaving a funeral when the attackers drove by in a four-car caravan, firing at the Range Rover. That same month, Bush and Council killed Terrance Anderson, who managed a competing drug line. Bush and Council shot Anderson five times while he was attending a reunion party for the Robert Taylor Homes.

Rival gang members were not the Hobos’ only targets. They also retaliated against cooperators. The trial evidence highlighted two such victims—Wilbert Moore and Keith Daniels—both of whom the defendants killed because of their work for law enforcement.

Moore dealt drugs in the Ida B. Wells housing projects. In 2004, he started cooperating with the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Information he provided led to the search of an apartment from which Council supplied crack cocaine. During the search, CPD officers seized cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and firearms from the apartment. Council figured out that Moore was the informant.

In January 2006 Council and Poe, with Bush's assistance, killed Moore. Bush spotted Moore's car parked outside of a barbershop and made a phone call. Council and Poe quickly arrived on the scene. As Moore left the barbershop, Poe fired at him from Council's car. Moore attempted to flee, but he tripped in a nearby vacant lot, allowing Council and Poe to catch up to him. Poe immediately shot him in the face.

Daniels was Council's brother and a Hobo. In 2011 he began providing information about the Hobos to law enforcement. He also participated in three controlled buys of heroin from Chester and another Hobo, Lance Dillard. Suspecting something, the Hobos decided to silence him. Ford sneaked into Daniels's apartment, pulled out a gun, and told Daniels to take a ride with him. Daniels refused and, soon after, the FBI temporarily relocated him. But that did not prove to be enough.

On April 4, 2013, Daniels testified about the Hobos and his controlled buys before a federal grand jury. A week later, Chester was arrested on a criminal complaint that alleged that Chester distributed heroin to Daniels. Chester told the arresting agents that he knew Daniels was the informant. Shortly after Chester's arrest, Poe cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet, and on April 14, 2013, Poe murdered Daniels in front of Daniels's girlfriend and children.

Robberies . The Hobos frequently conducted robberies, home invasions, and burglaries. A few vivid examples suffice. At a nightclub in June 2006, Poe robbed NBA basketball player Bobby Simmons of a $100,000 necklace. A car chase followed, and Poe shot at Simmons's car from Council's car. Later in 2006, Brown, Jones, and a Met Boy entered a drug dealer's home and shot, punched, and stabbed him for information about the location of his drugs. They took $20,000 worth of marijuana and gave some to Council.

In 2007, Bush, Council, and Stanley robbed a heroin supplier. In July 2008, Brown and Jones burglarized a home. While fleeing from police, they crashed into a car driven by Tommye Ruth Freeman, an elderly woman, killing her. In November 2008, Council and three other Hobos robbed a clothing store called Collections, stealing merchandise worth $17,488.

We could go on, but the picture is clear: the Hobos were a violent, dangerous gang, and each of the defendants in this case was an active participant in its activities.


Before we proceed to the defendants’ many contentions, we offer a brief overview of the charges. Of the nine defendants involved in these appeals, three pleaded guilty to one count of RICO conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) (Count 1): Brown, Jones,...

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