“Operation Crew Cut” – New Arrests in Second Long-Term Racketeering Operation
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced the charges made against five individuals arrested following the second long-term proactive state racketeering investigation conducted by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office that employed the new Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. The operation targeted members of an organized crime street crew, who were allegedly involved in numerous criminal activities such as abductions, drug trafficking, home invasions.
Out of the five charged offenders, three men – namely, Maher Abuhabsah, 33, Paul Koroluk, 55, and Robert Panozzo, 54, currently faces charges of Racketeering Conspiracy and Criminal Drug Conspiracy, which are classified as Super Class X Felony charges. The family members of the aforementioned defendants were also found to be involved in the criminal activities of the street gang. Robert Panozzo Jr., 22, son of defendant Panozzo, faces Criminal Drug Conspiracy charges. The wife of defendant Koroluk, Maria Koroluk, 53, was also charged with a Super Class X Felony of Possession with Intent to Deliver a large amount of cocaine.
The “Operation Crew Cut” targeted lawbreakers associated with criminal enterprises that have been operating on sophisticated schemes and high-technology conspiracies within the Chicago area for several years. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has filed RICO related charges and other criminal complaints against the defendants, marking the second long-term, state RICO prosecution made by the office following the approval of the Illinois Street Gang Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations bill, which was made into law in 2012.
Similar to the first state RICO case against the Black Souls Street Gang that was handled by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, the “Operation Crew Cut” was initiated in response to an incident wherein a criminal enterprise was found to have attempted to solicit the murder of a state witness who was set to testify on an impending case of home invasion and kidnapping against the street crew.
In October of 2013, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office began the “Operation Crew Cut”, which was an investigation on the members of the Panozzo-Koroluk Street Crew (P-K Street Crew). The investigation was a 10-month long process of observing and learning the schemes of the street crew, which engaged in a robbery of drug cartel stash houses for drugs and other illegal contraband, home invasions, insurance fraud, and kidnapping. The members of the P-K Street Crew allegedly posed as police officers as a technique in robbing drug cartel stash houses. Their pattern of criminal activities was revealed in the joint-state federal investigation through the use of newly established laws that allow the law enforcers to use consensual overhears, tracking orders, court-ordered electronic surveillance, and search warrants on cell phones and email accounts.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez sends violent criminals and gang members a warning. “In both matters, organized crime sought to attack the criminal justice system itself, and now, armed with a proper state RICO statute, my office can fight back effectively and hold the right offenders accountable for their crimes,” said State’s Attorney’s Alvarez.
With the help of the new proper state RICO statute, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, along with other law enforcement agencies, was able to proactively investigate on the members of the P-K street crew, as well as reveal the illegal racketeering activities of the gang. The “Operation Crew Cut” demonstrates the wide array of substantial and violent crimes that the P-K street crew engaged in, including armed violence, burglary, drug trafficking, fraud, home invasion, murder, and weapons offenses. Furthermore, the strategy by which the street crew endures was also revealed in the racketeering investigation. It was found that the members of the street crew acquire information from other Chicago street gang members to identify their next target, precisely its location and the contents of the drug cartel stash house they aim to rob. Additionally, it was noted that the P-K street crew utilizes sophisticated and high-technology equipment in their scheme. The prosecutors were able to reveal that the P-K crew members use GPS trackers and surveillance cameras in order to locate and observe their intended targets properly. Upon establishing the location and organizing their game plan, the P-K crew members would pose as police officers and ‘raid’ the targeted drug cartel stash house and steal large amounts of drugs, cash proceeds, and other contrabands.
One of the defendants, as court documents declared, sliced off the ear of a victim during one of their operations of home invasion and kidnapping in 2013. Panozzo, the particular defendant, involved in the aforementioned occurrence, leads the P-K crew in their conspiracies. During the incident in which he sliced off the ear of a victim after hearing the man speak English when he claimed he only spoke Spanish, the P-K street crew was able to obtain 25 kilograms of cocaine, as well as two cars.
On July 16, 2014, the arrests of the defendants were made, following the attempt of the P-K street crew to target approximately 44 kilograms of cocaine in a set-up drug cartel stash house that was rigged by law enforcers with audio and video surveillance equipment as a part of the “Operation Crew Cut.” The defendants were arrested shortly after they attempted to “escape” from the set-up drug cartel stash house.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez asserts the significance of the newly established state RICO statute, which helped immensely in the investigation of the case. “The completion of this second proactive investigation is yet another example of the vital importance that our Illinois RICO law now plays in our ability to combat violent organized crime in the state of Illinois, and I am pleased to work in collaboration with our law enforcement partners at the local and federal level once again, and use this critical tool to send a strong and lasting message to criminals who plague our communities with violence and crime,” said State’s Attorney Alvarez.
The new Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, dubbed as the “Street Gang Rico” bill, was written by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, which was effectively passed by the state legislature in 2012. The statute was passed into law with the aim to combat organized violent crimes by allowing prosecutors at the state level to utilize high-technology equipment and wiretapping system in order to target criminal enterprises involved in violent crimes such as drug trafficking, illegal weapons, and sex-offenses.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez commends the Chicago Police Department, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration for their exemplary work on the case. “Operation Crew Cut” was delivered in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the United States Attorney’s Office.
With the provided criminal documents containing allegations that are not evidence of guilt, the public is reminded that the defendant shall be presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the state has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Updated: September 30, 2020