By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The top national leader of the Latin Kings street gang was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on Wednesday after being convicted last April on racketeering conspiracy and related charges involving drug dealing and violence, prosecutors said.
Augustin Zambrano, 51, also known as "Big Tino" and "Viejo," was the highest-ranking leader of the Latin Kings to be convicted since Gustavo "Gino" Colon, who is serving a life sentence imposed in 2000, prosecutors said.
The street gang, believed to the largest Hispanic gang in the United States, has 10,000 members in Illinois alone, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. Its reach extends to Connecticut, Florida, New York, California, New Jersey and Texas, according to court documents.
In sentencing Zambrano, U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle cited his extensive criminal record of violent offenses and lack of any remorse for his victims.
"Zambrano chose violence at every turn," prosecutors wrote in a court filing. "The message he sent out through his words and actions was that violence was the only path that mattered."
Zambrano's defense lawyer planned to appeal the sentence, and the conviction was already on appeal.
The conspiracy count included evidence that Zambrano and several co-defendants conspired to get money from an organization illegally selling fraudulent immigration documents in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood by threatening and engaging in violence unless the payments were made.
Evidence at trial documented 20 shootings in the Little Village area, including at least one in which the victim died, according to prosecutors.
"The effect there has been devastating," federal prosecutor Andrew Porter said, calling Zambrano the gang's "CEO."
Zambrano has been in federal custody since 2009 and must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence.
Defense attorney James Graham said one of the issues on appeal was that the trial had an anonymous jury, which kept information from the defense.
"That's something the government is seeking more and more," Graham said.
The Latin Kings started in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago in the 1950s or 1960s, according to the Chicago Crime Commission's "The Gang Book."
(Editing by Daniel Trotta)