Chicago gang leader pleads guilty in Miami

ABC7 I-Team Investigation
Piero "Bam Bam" Benitez, 28, was a rising star in a ruthless Chicago street gang; but he will be behind bars for 25 years under a plea deal cut with federal prosecutors, who say Benitez' gang is responsible for a dozen killings going back to 1985.

Some of the victims were people who just got in the way, including a 7-year-old-girl waiting by a suburban ice cream truck and a 13-year-old girl playing in a city park.

The Imperial Gangsters street gang expanded from Chicago's North Side to Northwest Indiana and eventually to South Florida. Miami is where federal investigators began dismantling the organization last fall, indicting three men and a dozen of their henchmen.

Last month the I-Team reported that 27-year-old Alex "A-Rock" Somarriba pleaded guilty in the gang case.

The I-Team learned Wednesday that Miami prosecutors worked up the ladder to Benitez, who pleaded guilty. The Skokie native admitted to a conspiracy of murder, attempted murder, robbery, narcotics distribution and obstruction of justice.

In his plea, the man they call "Bam Bam" described how new members endured physical assaults at gang-related gatherings; a gang whose income is from cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana sales.

Benitez also he admitted that he shot and killed a rival gangster almost nine years ago.

That is one of a dozen murders law enforcement has attributed to the Imperial Gangsters Nation, whose members enjoy poising on social media. Their color may be pink and the gang logo a cartoon character, but investigators say the Imperial Gangsters have become one of the most merciless criminal organizations in the country, enriching the group's leaders and members and protecting their power and territory through threats, intimidation torture and murder.

Along the way is a trail of devastation that includes 7-year-old Juana Nieto. Her life was ended by a gang bullet 18 years ago this week as she waited on a warm spring day in Franklin Park to buy an ice cream. A 3-year-old boy, a 17-year-old and the ice cream truck driver were wounded.

Her murder and some of the other killings committed by Chicago gang members have been prosecuted in Cook County. Those same murders have been used as evidence of a racketeering conspiracy and used by federal prosecutors in the South Florida cases.
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