Suit against second Elgin gang draws response
By Dave Gathman email@example.com October 8, 2013 4:54PM
Updated: November 10, 2013 6:21AM
GENEVA — It was an unusual crowd for the “old Kane County courthouse” in downtown Geneva, whose criminal-law cases were moved out years ago to the new courthouse along Route 38 and where now only civil lawsuits are heard.
For Judge David Akemann, Tuesday’s business began with brief status hearings about a disputed inheritance and two lawsuits involving the Illinois Department of Transportation. The morning would end with a half-dozen American Legion members showing up to defend against a lawsuit from a company that provides gambling equipment.
But in between, watched over warily by three stern-looking sheriff’s officers plus a uniformed young officer from the Elgin Police Department Gang Unit, 18 alleged members of the Elgin branch of the Maniac Latin Disciples street gang paraded before the judge.
They had showed up to answer a lawsuit brought by the city of Elgin and the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office, seeking to prohibit them from associating with each other.
The lawsuit was filed in June against the MLD gang itself and 25 alleged members. The suit follows similar suits lodged by the state’s attorney’s office against the Latin Kings gangs in Elgin and Aurora.
Police say the first two suits, which resulted in injunctions issued by a judge against gang members, have weakened Latin Kings activity by allowing Elgin and Aurora police to arrest members merely for being found in each other’s presence.
Seven of the MLDs being sued now did not show up in court Tuesday, most of those because they already are in prison or jail. The 18 who did appear were on their best behavior. They dressed in suits and sweaters and ties as they were called to face the judge one by one. All spoke fluent English.
Two of the 25 being sued had lawyers to represent them. Attorney Tim Mahoney said he had been hired by one of the family members of Victor Rivera, a 21-year-old prison inmate from Elgin. According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, Rivera is being held in the Big Muddy Correctional Center on a seven-year sentence for firing a gun at a vehicle with people in it in 2008.
Mahoney said he had filed an answer to the lawsuit against Rivera, arguing that “the allegations in the complaint (about Rivera being involved in illegal gang activity) are not true.” Akemann agreed to discuss the arguments about Rivera’s situation further on Nov. 21.
Defense attorney Gary Topol got a similar ruling from the judge about his client, 30-year-old Robert Trujillo from Silver Court in Elgin.
In almost all the other cases, the young men had neither hired a lawyer nor submitted a response to the allegations against them within the 30 days allowed for such responses. So in each of those cases, Akemann ruled the defendant was “in default” but scheduled a new court date, also on Nov. 21, to hear any further arguments the defendant had about that.
“I tried (to hire) three lawyers, but they want an arm and a leg, and I’m not working,” 22-year-old defendant Victor Botti, of Morgan Street in Elgin, told the judge.
One defendant, 28-year-old Jose Villagomez of Booth Court in Elgin, had filed a written response to the suit and was acting as his own attorney. Akemann also told him to come back on Nov. 21 to argue his position.
The lawyer representing the state’s attorney’s office and the city of Elgin, Ross Bartolotta, declined to comment after the hearing. So did the defendants, except for one who complained that the Elgin police “can’t solve murders ... ” when it comes to gang-related crimes. “All they do is give traffic tickets,” he said.
An observer pointed out that two gang members were convicted in recent years of shooting to death the girlfriend of a rival gang member, and that a gang member is now awaiting trial on charges that he shot to death the 6-year-old son of another gang member.
The police criticizer said those cases were different because they involved innocent bystanders, not male gang members killing other male gang members.
Mahoney said he also represented several alleged Latin Kings in the earlier Elgin case and persuaded the judge in that case to dismiss several of his clients from the suit.