Takedown of alleged gang members cause prison lockdown

A takedown of several reported gang members last week prompted the Minnesota Department of Corrections to initiate a rare lockdown of its entire prison system, including the facility in Rush City.

The lockdown, which began at 4 a.m. Jan. 24 until 5 a.m. Jan. 25, supported an extensive law enforcement investigation regarding a sweeping racketeering indictment charging alleged members of the Native Mob.

“Lockdowns of individual living units in our facilities are a fairly common tool for maintaining order and ensuring the efficient operation of our prisons,” DOC communications director John Schadl told the Post Review last week. “In a lockdown, offenders are confined to their cells, classes, prison jobs, (and) outside communications and visiting are suspended until whatever issue that led to the lockdown is resolved. But it is rare for DOC to lockdown all of its facilities at the same time.”

According to a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Minnesota district:

The lockdown was initiated, in part, to help keep order and protect officers from harm when a partially unsealed, 47-count federal indictment charged 24 alleged members of the Native Mob gang with conspiracy to participate in racketeering activity and other crimes.

As a result, six defendants were apprehended during the takedown conducted by between 100 and 150 local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement officials. Arrests were made on the White Earth, Mille Lacs and Leech Lake Indian reservations as well as in the Twin Cities.

Of the 18 remaining defendants, 12 are presently in jail or prison on other charges, while six continue to be sought by law enforcement.

The indictment alleges that since at least the mid-1990s, the defendants named in this case and others have conspired to conduct criminal activity through an “enterprise,” namely the Native Mob, in violation of the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

The Native Mob is a regional criminal gang that originated in Minneapolis in the early 1990s. Members routinely engage in drug trafficking, assault, robbery and murder, the U.S. Attorney’s Office stated.

Those charged in the indictment include Dale Wesley Ballinger, Jr., 20, of Isle; Damien Lee Beaulieu, 20, Onamia; Aaron James Gilbert, Jr., 24, Minneapolis; Cory Gene Oquist, 22, Bemidji; Dale John Pindegayosh, 29, Cass Lake; and Justen Lee Poitra, 26, Cass Lake. They were all arrested Wednesday morning, Jan. 25.

In addition to the racketeering charge filed against all 24 defendants, other charges were levied against just some of the defendants.

If convicted, the defendants face a potential maximum sentence of between 20 years and life in federal prison. Since the federal justice system does not have parole, prison terms would be served virtually in entirety. All sentences will ultimately be determined by a federal district court judge.

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