URBANA – A spree of vicious armed robberies involving at least eight men who stole more than $400,000 resulted in convictions on federal charges Friday for four of the crew.
After 13 hours of deliberations and a total of 10 days of trial in U.S. District Court in Urbana, the jury of six men and six women found Brad O. Williams, Clinton Williams, Seville Williams and Rory Tucker, all of Kankakee, guilty of a total of 23 counts as charged, including armed robbery conspiracy, armed robbery and use of a gun in a violent crime.
U.S. Central District Judge Michael McCuskey set sentencing for the four men for March 12. Four other men pleaded guilty to similar charges earlier, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Bass, who prosecuted the case, said after the verdicts were announced Friday that in 11 years of prosecuting violent crimes, this case stands out for the number of victims involved, the number of criminals participating in the robberies and the amount of violence, which was shown in security video tapes from some of the robberies.
"It was important to show the jury the kind of violence the victims suffered," Bass said. "Each of these victims was terrorized."
Five of the eight men were arrested April 24 in Rantoul as a robbery at Community Plus Credit Union at 526 E. Champaign St. was interrupted. The manager and another employee were both pistol-whipped. However, an alert Rantoul resident notified Rantoul police after seeing men enter the credit union wearing masks. Officers rounded up the five, and a sixth involved was arrested two days later in Kankakee.
Two other men admitted participating in earlier robberies in the conspiracy.
Brad Williams, 33, also known as "BMX," was described by fellow conspirators and law enforcement officials as leader of the group. He was convicted of a total of 10 charges, including the conspiracy charge, four separate robberies and four counts of using a gun in a violent crime, and an additional charge of possession of a firearm by a felon.
A total of 50 witnesses testified, including Ahshun Collins, Marion Jefferson III, Bobby Riley and Tyron Thomas, who all admitted participating in the conspiracy.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Bass, who prosecuted the case, said the string of robberies in Kankakee, Peotone and Rantoul involved different robbers at different times.
"This case is about guns and violence, repeated acts of violence, repeated acts of using guns, all for money," Bass said in closing arguments Thursday.
More than $400,000 was stolen by the gang in what police described as "takeover robberies" from November 2005 to April 24.
Five of the men – Brad Williams, Clinton Williams, Tucker, Riley and Collins – were arrested April 24 following the interrupted robbery.
Bass said the statements by the four conspirators who pleaded guilty were corroborated by other evidence in the case, including testimony of robbery victims and other witnesses, audio recordings of conversations involving two of the men, cell phone records of several of the men, security camera images in some of the robberies, and other physical evidence.
The pattern to the conspiracy, as shown by the evidence, was that a pharmacy, a finance office and two credit unions were robbed by men wearing masks and carrying in guns.
Evidence was also shown that the First Community Bank and Trust in Peotone was robbed by the gang on April 7. That robbery occurred outside the Central District of Illinois juris-diction but was presented as evidence of the conspiracy.
At Rantoul and other robberies, employees were assaulted, evidence showed. The trial also showed a pattern of cell phone calls between phones listed to Brad Williams and other conspirators. Some calls also were listed to people involved with the group but not charged.
Those phone records showed a flurry of calls before and during many of the robberies, Bass said. As shown to the jury with red, blue and other highlights, the phone records "paint a trail" of the conspiracy, he said.
Brad Williams testified in his own defense that his cell phone had been stolen the day before one robbery and that his only job was working part time as a disc jockey at a Kankakee nightclub.
He denied planning or participating in any of the robberies. He also denied he had been wearing a white G Unit brand shirt in Rantoul, saying he had gone down from Kankakee to Rantoul without a shirt the morning of that robbery.
Witnesses testified seeing a man with such a shirt run out of the bank as police approached. One woman said she saw a man with a distinctive tattoo on his back take off such a shirt.
In cross examination, Bass asked Brad Williams about a tattoo and showed jurors a picture of a large tattoo on Brad Williams' back.
Questions in cross examination also indicated Brad Williams had written letters to several people while being held in federal custody. Those letters had been screened and seized by jail officials.
Brad Williams denied that he had written a note to Seville Williams that included an obscene statement that the law didn't have any evidence.
"I know I didn't commit no crimes," he testified Thursday.
Bass said the jail officials also seized another letter Wednesday that Brad Williams had intended to send to Bobby Riley's mother, Wendy, who lives in Rantoul.
Brad Williams admitted he used to date Wendy Riley and wrote the letter asking her to meet with him.
Bass said Brad Williams also said in the letter that he hid something and Wendy Riley could have five "stacks." The prosecutor said that means $5,000 in street jargon. The letter also said Brad Williams had to give the other 45 "stacks" to "his people."
"If ever there was an example of a defendant putting an exclamation point on his own conviction, this was it," the prosecutor said in his closing.
Bass also argued evidence showed Brad Williams bought cars and stereo equipment after robberies. One cell phone Brad Williams had used had a picture of him in a fur coat, which investigators believe was purchased with robbery proceeds.