Anti-violence activist among dozens charged in gang operation

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Federal authorities say they've arrested an anti-violence activist as one of the more than 45 people rounded up in an anti-gang operation called Operation Bunny Trap. In 2014, federal investigators teamed up with the Chicago Police Department and Cook County State's Attorney's office to target Chicago's Gangster Two-Six Nation street gang.

Authorities charged 50-year-old Francisco Sanchez with illegal possession of a firearm by a felon as part of the roundup. They say he goes by "Smokey" and is a violence interrupter for the anti-violence group Cure Violence which used to be known as CeaseFire. ABC7 was unable to reach Sanchez for comment. In the federal complaint filed today, ATF agents say that when they searched Sanchez's home they found something that appeared to be a book but that was actually concealing a metal container with a black .45 caliber Colt pistol inside.

Federal authorities say Operation Bunny Trap targeted gun and drug sales on Chicago's South Side and surrounding suburbs and resulted in the seizures of more than 100 guns, including 15 assault-style rifles.

"The Gangster 2-6 nation street gang has been terrorizing our community for decades," said Celinez Nunez, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Division of ATF. Nunez continued, "When we target the right individuals as we did now and the right organizations, we can be hopeful that we are on the right path to reduce gun violence in the city of Chicago."

Authorities say they also rounded up two ballistic vests, more than 800 grams of cocaine, more than 250 grams of fentanyl, and more than 280 grams of crystal meth. During the investigation, federal agents uncovered drug sales in the parking lot of a South Loop grocery store and the bathroom of a pizza shop in Brighton Park.

Joel R. Levin, Acting United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, announced the charges today and praised the cooperation between federal and local law enforcement. "What you see in this case, the level of cooperation and collaboration is by no means unique," said Levin. "Our Assistant U.S. Attorneys are working every single day with CPD officers, with people in the State's Attorney's office to make cases in the neighborhoods of Chicago that have been affected by violence in order to improve the lives and public safety of the people who are living in those neighborhoods," he continued.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said CPD officers arrested 27 of the people who were charged in just the last several days. "It's my hope that the results of this mission show firsthand what we can achieve when we combine our efforts and as we head into the Memorial Day weekend to send a clear message to those driving the violence that when we come at you with everything we have to make our communities safer, from the local, state and federal enforcement sides," said Supt. Johnson.

Despite the large number of firearms recovered, Acting U.S. Attorney Levin said at this point there were no shooting or murder charges connected to the weapons.

"There are no acts of violence that are charged in this indictment beyond that, I'm not prepared to comment," Levin said.

Cure Violence released a statement Friday saying, "Violence interrupters make the most dangerous communities safer - with studies showing reductions in shootings and killings of up to 50%. To stop violence, we must engage with individuals most likely to commit violence by hiring people who have access and credibility with the population-a standard practice in health outreach programs including AIDS/HIV and substance abuse. Hundreds of interrupters in dozens of health departments and communities are helping to make our communities safer. Although relapses may occur, we need to see the bigger picture of the amazing work and great successes and contributions of interrupters in Chicago and around the country." null
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