COLUMBUS, Ohio - Gang members murdered people during robberies, tried to kill rivals and intimidated witnesses including fatally shooting one to keep her from going to police, all in efforts to control their reputation and territory, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
Dealing heroin, cocaine, pain pills and marijuana, robbing people and murders-for-hire were the only source of income for members of the Short North Posse during crimes dating to 2005, according to an indictment made public Tuesday.
Short North Posse members routinely supplied themselves with guns and ammunition, helped gang members in prison by giving them money and also produced songs about their gang and methods that were posted on social media sites as intimidation tools, the indictment said.
"The Short North Posse controlled the neighborhood through intimidation, fear and violence," according to the indictment.
In total, 17 men were indicted on 25 charges in what U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart called the biggest federal murder indictment in Ohio history. The charges include allegations of 13 killings, 12 of them previously unsolved. Investigators have prosecuted the same gang going back to the 1990s.
"We can't say that it's been decimated, we can't say that it's been dismantled. That's our goal," Stewart said. "But I can tell you that they've taken a significant hit, especially on the enforcement side."
A December indictment of 22 people targeted the gang's drug dealing, while Tuesday's charges focused on violent crimes. Divisions of the gang who dubbed themselves the "Homicide Squad" and the "Cut Throat Committee" specialized in murders and robberies of rival gang members, drug dealers and individuals thought to have a lot of money or guns, the indictment said.
Investigators made a public appeal for tips in February and the leads that came in, along with investigators' efforts, led to the indictment, Stewart said.
Every murder has a cost to society and every victim matters, said Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs.
"Even if this is drug dealer to drug dealer, they all matter to us," she said. "The fact that we're prosecuting and looking for these violent criminals should tell our community how much we care about the safety overall of the community."
The Short North district north of downtown Columbus is now a vibrant shopping and restaurant district, but it was a run-down and at times dangerous area before the first gang crackdown in the 1990s.
Several of the defendants were already in jail or prison on other charges, which aided with witness cooperation, said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien.
"They weren't out on the street directly intimidating people," he said.