Alleged members of Minneapolis gangs face charges

A man speaks at a microphone
U.S. Attorney Andy Luger, right, announces federal charges against 45 alleged gang members at a news conference in Minneapolis on Wednesday alongside Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt, left, and Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Dozens of alleged members and associates of Minneapolis street gangs are facing charges as part of a wide-ranging anti-violence effort by local and federal law enforcement. A grand jury has indicted 45 people who authorities say are affiliated with two gangs, the Highs and the Bloods.

At a news conference Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said the newly unsealed indictments list 20 shootings and seven homicides dating back to 2016. The defendants range in age from 20 to 47 and are charged with crimes including murder, attempted murder, robbery and drug trafficking. 

Specific crimes listed in the indictments include a fatal shootout at the 200 Club in north Minneapolis in 2020, as well as a homicide allegedly involving Bloods members last year outside of William’s Pub and Peanut Bar in Uptown. 

“For the past year we, together, have been carefully and deliberately building these cases against the criminal organizations that are Minneapolis street gangs,” Luger said. “And this is just the first step. We will continue to bring gang cases as we dismantle them and reduce the threat they pose to our city.” 

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A man in glasses talks to a room
Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andy Luger announces federal charges against 45 alleged gang members at a news conference in Minneapolis on Wednesday.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

The effort targets what investigators say are the three primary street gangs in Minneapolis. The Highs and Lows each generally operate on the north side, with their respective territories to the north and south of West Broadway Avenue. The Bloods gang, which has been around for decades, generally operates in south Minneapolis. 

Most of the defendants are facing charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Congress passed RICO in 1970 to target the mafia. Luger said that the Highs and the Bloods are similar criminal enterprises.

“Once we establish that the gang fits this description, all members of the gang can be prosecuted together. And all of their crimes referred to as racketeering acts are admissible at trial,” Luger said.

This is the first time that federal prosecutors have charged alleged Minneapolis gang members under RICO, Luger said.

In 2013, a federal jury convicted three members of the Native Mob on racketeering charges for their role in a conspiracy to sell drugs and engage in violent crime in the Cass Lake area and Minneapolis. Wakinyon Wakan McArthur, 44, the gang’s former leader, is serving a 43-year sentence. His co-defendants are also serving multi-decade federal prison terms.

Federal prosecutors here are getting help from the Organized Crime and Gang Section at the Justice Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kenneth Polite said the RICO statute allows law enforcement to dismantle criminal organizations from the top down. 

“RICO is an important tool that allows the department to target not only those individuals who carry out crimes, but also to take out the group's leadership,” Polite said.

While gangs have roamed Minneapolis streets for many years, investigators say the groups became more cohesive and added members during the pandemic and the unrest that followed George Floyd’s murder in 2020.

Chief Brian O’Hara said Minneapolis police are working closely with their federal counterparts, and MPD investigators are working in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“There is absolutely nothing normal about the disgusting levels of violence and crime detailed in these complaints. It is outrageous, it is entirely unacceptable and it will not stand,” O’Hara said.

A man talks into a microphone to a room
Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara discusses the federal charges against 45 alleged gang members at a news conference in Minneapolis on Wednesday.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Nearly all of those charged so far are in federal custody. Officials did not say how many more may face charges, but emphasized that the indictments unsealed Wednesday focused only on the Highs and Bloods. Alleged members of the Lows have yet to be charged.  

The federal investigation, which has been underway for the past year, comes as violent crime in Minneapolis is trending downward. According to the city’s online dashboard, the number of gunshot wound victims is down by a third and homicides and carjackings dropped 40 percent over this time last year.

Luger also noted that the effort includes approaches that don’t involve arrest and prosecution. He said community engagement efforts include regular meetings with gang members to dissuade them from a life of crime. 

Editor’s note (May 4, 2023): This story has been updated to clarify that the Minnesota U.S. attorney’s office previously used the RICO statute to prosecute members of the Native Mob gang.