Two Jefferson Parish prosecutors and their investigator who are part of the task force that dismantled the murderous Harvey Hustlers street gang on the West Bank were recognized Tuesday (Feb. 23), by the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Assistant District Attorneys Doug Freese and Seth Shute and Capt. Kevin Smith were among the local and federal authorities to receive the commission’s 2016 Excellence in Law Enforcement Awards, presented annually to those who “contribute to making our community a better place to live, work and raise our families,” Rafael Goyeneche, the commission’s president and executive director, told a luncheon audience at the downtown New Orleans Sheraton.
A joint federal and local task force was born from the Harvey Hustler’s investigation, creating an unparalleled level of cooperation between federal and Jefferson Parish prosecutors, the FBI and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“Over the last twenty years, the level of cooperation between the District Attorney’s Office, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI has been exceptional,” said Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick, the parish’s top prosecutor for two decades.
“In investigating and prosecuting these cases, however, the quality of our cooperative work has gone to a whole new level, with everyone willingly and without reservation contributing enormous manpower and other resources needed to ensure we achieved the results our community deserved,” Connick said.
Between state and federal jurisdictions, the task force’s work led to 66 indictments, and the sentences gang affiliates received ranged from five years to life in prison, said Alan H. Philipson, the Metropolitan Crime Commission’s chairman.
During the five-year period ending in 2015, the active years in Harvey Hustler prosecutions, Jefferson Parish saw a 39-percent reduction in homicides, he said.
Originating in Harvey’s Scotsdale neighborhood, the Harvey Hustlers and its affiliated arms funneled about 20 kilograms of cocaine into West Jefferson from Texas monthly, distributing it and heroin and marijuana on area streets.
It’s “Murder Squad” was charged with protecting the gang’s illegal trade and was responsible for numerous homicides in the area. The gang’s death toll includes an 81-year-old Bridge City woman and a 58-year-old Marrero man, neither of whom were the intended targets.
Federal authorities, led by the FBI, began the investigation in 2009, leading the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans to begin obtaining indictments beginning in 2010. U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite said his office assembled a “dream team of prosecutors” for the Harvey Hustlers case, and his office and Connick’s collaborated in which jurisdiction to prosecute to “give us the biggest bang for our buck.”
Of the cases that were not prosecuted in U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division of Louisiana, where several Harvey Hustlers have received life sentences for homicides, 26 defendants have been prosecuted in six cases filed in Jefferson Parish’s 24th Judicial District Court.
Those include 21 defendants who were charged in a 30-count racketeering indictment. In less than a year, two of them were convicted at trial, while the remainder pleaded guilty.
“To all of you, I extend my deepest appreciation for all the work you’ve done,” Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand told award recipients.
From the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, detectives Brad Roniger and Jeremiah Washington also received the Excellence in Law Enforcement Awards.
FBI Special Agents Todd Schliem, Christopher Stokes and ATF Special Agent Karen Evanoski were awarded accolades, as were the FBI’s Gabrella S. Kelly, Karen Reed.
From the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Duane Evans, David Haller, Greg Kennedy and Myles Ranier received the awards. Paralegal supervisor Ashley R. Rohde was recognized. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Collin Sims, a former federal prosecutor who now oversees felony prosecutions in St. Tammany Parish, also was involved in the Harvey Hustlers cases.