Leader of ‘Bomb Squad’ gang in Peoria, IL receives life sentence on murder and RICO charges

A federal judge in Peoria, Illinois handed down a life sentence this week for the leader of the “Bomb Squad” street gang that operated for years in Peoria.

Eugene “NuNu” Haywood, from South Peoria, and 12 others were found guilty in December after a seven-week trial for violating racketeering laws, pushing drugs and killing or attempting to kill several people. Haywood’s hearing kicked off a two-week period during which fellow gang members will have their sentences imposed by U.S. District Judge James Shadid.

All of the defendants face decades behind bars. Haywood drew a life sentence for his participation in two homicides: That of Eric Brown, 21, who was shot and found in the street in June, 2013, in Peoria and Tyrann M. Chester, 24, of Chicago who was shot and found in an SUV in an alley in Peoria about a month later.

Prosecutors contended that Eugene Haywood, age 26, had bragged about his exploits. Prosecutor Ron Hanna, Jr., listed nearly a dozen gang members or associates who died in a cycle of gang violence. Many, he noted, were under 25.

Haywood and his co-defendants were convicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The jury found that from 2013 to the present, members and associates of the Bomb Squad engaged in acts of violence including murder, attempted murder, assault and arson, to protect itself, its members, and associates from rival gangs and to protect the standing and reputation of the Bomb Squad.

The trial, which began on October 21, was one of the longest in recent history and was a primer in the street violence that has plagued Peoria since 2013.

Prosecutors argued the gang members worked together to achieve their goals of dominating South Peoria. The use of threats, guns and intimidation was common. In addition to the two murders for which there were convictions, two others were referenced at the trial.

Bomb Squad member Jermontay Brock awaits trial in Peoria County Circuit Court for allegedly shooting two people at an off-campus Bradley University party in April 2018. One of the men on trial allegedly gave a handgun to Brock, then 16, who then allegedly shot and killed Anthony Polnitz at the party. Nasjay Murry, 18, a Bradley University student, was also killed when the bullet passed through Polnitz and struck her.

Also sentenced was Kentrevion Watkins, to 19 years behind bars on similar charges. Prosecutors argued he was the one who gave a handgun to Brock just before the two killings.

The Investigation: Cooperators

A proffer of evidence filed by U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Hanna in October 2019 explains how the investigation was conducted and evidence uncovered.

The investigation began in June 2017, when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and the Peoria Police Department (PPD) recruited a Bomb Squad gang member — referred to in the court document as “CGM-1” — as a confidential informant. At that time, CGM-1 had been a member of the gang for several years. CGM-1 was interviewed extensively and provided details regarding the Bomb Squad, including but not limited to identification of gang members, information about initiation, leadership and ranking, turf, rival gangs and rival gang territory, meetings, trap houses, drug and gun activity, specific acts of violence, gang signs, slang, and gang practices.

The ATF and PPD subsequently recruited two additional Bomb Squad members, referred to as “CGM-2” and “CGM-4”, to act as informants. CGM-2 and CGM-4 were also interviewed extensively regarding the history and characteristics of the Bomb Squad, including specific acts of violence committed by the gang.

The ATF and PPD used those confidential informants to conduct three types of investigatory work. First, the ATF and PPD used them to make recorded purchases of firearms and narcotics (powder cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, marijuana) from members of the Bomb Squad. Second, the confidential informants attended meetings with Bomb Squad members and recorded conversations about gang activities, including narcotics transactions and acts of violence against rival gang members. Third, the ATF and PPD used the cooperators to obtain intelligence and admissions from Bomb Squad members.

As the case progressed, the government developed additional cooperating witnesses who were members of or were closely associated with the gang. As with the informants described above, the ATF and PPD obtained historical information about the Bomb Squad from the additional cooperators and further, used some of them in proactive investigatory work, including firearm and narcotics purchases and recorded overhears of conversations with Bomb Squad members.

The Investigation: Facebook and YouTube

Law enforcement agents also tracked open-source social media like Facebook and Snapchat for Bomb Squad-related postings. Electronic search warrants were executed on the Facebook accounts of thirteen Bomb Squad members named in the indictment. The social media accounts were laden with images of drugs, firearms, gang signs, gang tattoos, graffiti, gang-related clothing, group photos, homages to former gang members, and memes discouraging snitching.

Agents also obtained and preserved a significant number of rap videos produced by Bomb Squad members and posted on YouTube. In the videos, Bomb Squad members brandish handguns and assault rifles, drugs, and large amounts of cash. The proffer of evidence document declares that the cooperators would testify that the guns and drugs in the videos were, in fact, real guns and drugs.

Recurring themes in the songs related to selling drugs, committing burglaries, shooting opposition gang members, calling out snitches, using “shorties” (up-and coming juvenile gang members) to conduct assassination missions in rival territory, and general intimidation by displaying firearms and rapping about particular calibers of weapons and high capacity magazines. In the videos, the participants frequently chanted the words “Squad” and “Two Three”, referring to the Bomb Squad and the 2300 Block of Starr Street in gang territory in Peoria, respectively.