Jefferson Parish prosecutors in Harvey Hustlers cases receive top FBI awards

Two Jefferson Parish prosecutors who are working with the joint local and federal task force that dismantled the notorious Harvey Hustlers gang, sending dozens of extremely violent drug dealers to prison for as long as 120 years, received 2016 FBI Director’s Awards for their ongoing work in the case.

Assistant District Attorneys Doug Freese and Seth Shute were among the New Orleans-area local and federal law enforcement officials to receive the award in the Outstanding Criminal Investigation category on Thursday (Sept. 15) from FBI Director James Comey, during a ceremony in Washington D.C.

Members of the FBI New Orleans Gang Task Force, which initiated the investigation seven years ago, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office also were named to receive the awards.

The Director’s Awards, considered to be among the most prestigious accolades within the FBI, are given annually to Bureau employees and others to recognize their exemplary contributions and service to their communities. This year’s recipients include men and women who investigated deadly terrorist and cyber attacks, designed innovative technology and training and provided exceptional service to colleagues and victims of crime, according to the FBI.

Read the FBI New Orleans announcement here.

Considered the scourge of some West Bank neighborhoods, the Harvey Hustlers traces its roots to the 1980s in the Scotsdale subdivision, from where a core group of members oversaw a narcotics distribution ring. The gang enlisted affiliates from other West Bank neighborhoods to help import the narcotics into Jefferson Parish from as far as Texas and to distribute it in the area.

The Harvey Hustlers had an enforcement arm known as the Murder Squad, which used violence to protect its illegal activities. Numerous homicides were tied to the gang, including those of an 81-year-old Bridge City woman and a 58-year-old Marrero man, neither of whom was the intended target.

The FBI New Orleans Gang Task Force and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office initiated the investigation in 2009, leading to more than 65 criminal indictments in state and federal courts. Since the investigation began, Jefferson Parish saw a 39-percent decrease in its homicide rate through 2015, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana and the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office collaborated in deciding the jurisdiction in which the cases would be prosecuted, depending on whether federal or state law could provide the more appropriate punishment.

Convictions in Jefferson Parish’s 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, and U.S. District Court in New Orleans, led to sentences ranging from five years to life in prison. The state and federal charges ranged from heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine distribution, racketeering, conspiracy to distribute narcotics, firearms offenses, homicide and murder-in-aid of racketeering.

In the Jefferson Parish, Freese and Shute prosecuted more than 30 Harvey Hustlers and their affiliates. Of them, 21 defendants were charged last year by a state grand jury in a sweeping 30-count racketeering and conspiracy case that includes a pending second-degree murder case.

Among them was Robert Williams, a Harvey Hustlers leader who was convicted at trial and sentenced in January to 120 years in prison. Each of the Harvey Hustlers who already had prior criminal convictions received no less than 20-year prison sentences in the Jefferson Parish cases.

This is the second time this year the Harvey Hustlers task force has been recognized. In February, New Orleans’ Metropolitan Crime Commission awarded the task force its 2016 Excellence in Law Enforcement Award.

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