Top gang leader sentenced to 60 years

January 11, 2012 3:20:03 PM PST
He was the highest-ranking leader nationwide of the Latin Kings Street gang. Wednesday, 51-year-old Augustin Zambrano was sentenced to 60 years in prison for conspiracy and other gang-related charges.

Zambrano is known as the "absolute ruler" of the gang. Much of his life has been spent behind bars, beginning with a weapons charge back when he was 19 years old.

Zambrano is 51 today, and up until his arrest and conviction last year, he was arguably one of the most powerful street gang leaders in the country. Now, Zambrano is going back to prison with a sentence that will keep him there for the rest of his life.

He was the "corona," the absolute ruler. Zambrano, even when he was away in prison, was still the boss of the Latin King nation.

"He was the leader of as many as 10,000 soldiers in Illinois alone," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Porter.

Presumably, he is the leader no longer. "Tino" Zambrano was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison Wednesday. Judge Charles Norgle called him the leader of a barbarian organization, unrepentant, with no respect for the law.

The law that Zambrano enforced was the Latin Kings constitution, a detailed document with written rules. If gang members made mistakes, or failed to live up to the rules, they would be subject to a violation. In other words, they would be beaten up by their own members.

An undercover recording played at trial shows a 2006 incident in which a gang member is punched and kicked by his own because he failed to shoot someone as directed. The beating continued for nearly three minutes. The man on the receiving end was able to walk away under his own power.

Gang members in Little Village had what were called mandatory bust-outs, meaning that at appointed times, they were ordered to stand on street corners with guns ready in case any rival gangs entered their turf. And the rule was shoot to kill.

The investigation that ultimately led to the conviction of Zambrano and some of his top lieutenants was eight years in the making. He is caught on some undercover video, not in the act of committing a crime, but prosecutors argued successfully at his trial that Zambrano was ultimately responsible for multiple shootings and murders because he was the boss and set up the system that governed the gang.

When asked if he wanted to say anything to the court Wednesday, Zambrano declined.

"He did not want to say anything that would jeopardize his appellate rights," said Zambrano attorney Jim Graham.

Zambrano will likely spend the rest of his life in a maximum security federal lock-up -- with perhaps an undefined place in Chicago's gang lore.

"I'll let you make your own comparisons for where he fits in," said Porter. "What we know is that he led a very violent, very large street gang in Chicago."

Given what Zambrano was convicted of, the 60-year sentence is the maximum under federal guidelines.

The judge read certain things into the record as he is required to do. In one of them, he told Zambrano that on release from prison, he must report to his parole officer within 72 hours. Zambrano will be serving minimally 85 percent of his sentence, So, at the time of his release, he would be 102 years old.