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Attorney General Bill McCollum Press Release
Manatee County Gang Member Sentenced to 30 Years for Racketeering
~ Gang member faces jury for organized crime, is convicted in less than an hour ~
TALLAHASSEE, FL – Attorney General Bill McCollum today announced that a Manatee County man has been convicted by a jury for organized crime. Eric “E.J.” Santiago, the first of his gang to face a jury, was convicted of criminal racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering after the jury deliberated for less than an hour. Santiago was identified as a member of a violent gang that has terrorized Manatee County through robberies, assaults, violence against law enforcement and other dangerous crimes. He and multiple co-defendants were prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, although he is the first to refuse a guilty or no contest plea and go to trial.
“This is a clear message to any member of a gang or anyone considering joining a gang that Florida’s law enforcement and prosecutors are serious about getting the toughest sentences possible for these dangerous offenses,” said Attorney General McCollum. “We will absolutely not back down in these efforts to combat gangs and gang violence in our state.”
Prosecutors with the Office of Statewide Prosecution and the State Attorney’s Office for the 12th Judicial Circuit used the Street Terrorism Act to structure the case against Santiago. The racketeering charge is used to target the gang as an organized criminal enterprise, often useful when witnesses or victims are unwilling or unable to testify against the gang members. Racketeering charges also provide for stronger sentences. Santiago’s co-defendants, Justino "Crazy" Santana, Fernando "Freddy" Chavez, Jose "Payaso" Luis Rodriguez, Alberto Gutierrez, and Pedro "Perico" Garcia, have all pleaded guilty to similar charges and have received various prison sentences. Gang leader Jose “Charlie Brown” Lopez was sentenced to seven years in prison in September.
Santiago and his co-conspirators were arrested in January 2006 through a joint effort by the Office of Statewide Prosecution, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the Bradenton Police Department. Two additional gang members, Frank “Magoo” Alvarez, and “Pistol” Pete Garcia, already pleaded to charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering and will be sentenced at a later date.
To address the gang issue on a statewide level, the Attorney General’s Office launched a statewide grand jury in August to investigate criminal gang activity including crimes involving narcotics or other dangerous drugs, robbery and gambling, as well as violations of the Florida Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organization (RICO) Act. The Attorney General and the Statewide Prosecutor also released the first Interim Report of the Grand Jury this week. The report acknowledges that law enforcement and prosecutors are attacking the problem, but increased enforcement tools and long-term joint investigations are critical. The Attorney General said developing and implementing a state strategy to combat gangs is a top priority and a commitment to arrest and prosecute gang members and gang leaders is a crucial part of this strategy.