CLEVELAND (AP) — Prosecutors have charged 43 teenage members of a notorious street and prison gang with racketeering for a series of crimes allegedly committed inside a Cleveland juvenile detention center.
While the charges filed Thursday are juvenile complaints, prosecutors hope to have all the charges and defendants moved to adult court.
Cuyahoga County prosecutors say the teens are members of the Heartless Felons, a gang that formed in 2000 and has its roots in Cleveland and prisons run by the Ohio Department of Youth Services.
A six-month investigation by the prosecutor’s office resulted in a total of 437 criminal complaints against the teens that included charges of robbery, extortion, assault and kidnapping, among others.
The racketeering charge is a first-degree felony in the adult criminal system.
Assistant prosecutor Duane Deskins said at a news conference Thursday that the gang members had taken control of the detention center in Cleveland by terrorizing other juveniles, threatening and attacking staff members and vandalizing the facility.
Deskins said a task force within the prosecutor’s office learned how gang leaders would recruit new members and would extort food or medication from other inmates by threatening to beat them up.
“Although most of the violent offenses were captured on videotape, the vast majority of the crimes charged in this week’s complaint had not been reported by victims or guards to the prosecutor’s office,” Deskins said.
Deskins said there was a reluctance by youth and guards to report the behavior of gang members because they believed nothing would be done.
The 43 youth who were charged in the complaint have 493 prior or pending delinquency charges, Deskins said. Three of the gang members have had homicide charges filed against them, he said.