NAACP questions 'Lake Boyz' racketeering charges

Posted at 10:49 PM, Feb 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-15 06:50:59-05

A Lee County Civil Rights leader is raising questions about a recent bust that put more than two dozen accused gang members behind bars on racketeering charges.

Racketeering is technically defined as "illegal business dealings," and is often used to go after organized crime, but James Muwakkil, President of the Lee County NAACP, said the charge is too extreme for some of the young men arrested in the sweep aimed at stopping the gang known as the "Lake Boyz."

He also questioned if race plays any role.

In January, the Fort Myers Police Department and State Attorney's Office announced the arrest of more than two dozen young men who they said belonged to the "Lake Boyz" gang in Harlem Lakes. They used a state law called RICO, which is often used to make arrests in organized crime.

"No African American in their reasonable mind believes all 27 of those men are guilty of racketeering. Some, maybe," Muwakkil said.

He said families of some of the arrestees are turning to the NAACP, saying the racketeering charge is overkill.

"We've got some parents who are saying to us that my son may have had under five grams of marijuana, he might have been charged with fleeing and eluding, but how does that make him part of an organized gang?" Muwakkil said.

An extensive report from investigators says the Lake Boyz operations included a detailed hierarchy, drug houses, and violence.

"They're not an organized crime that can be compared with the Mafia, in which the racketeering law was created for. We think they made it fit them. We don't know if it fits all of them," Muwakkil said.

Muwakkil also wondered if race is a factor, given national statistics.

"An African American born man is six times more likely to get arrested than a white," Muwakkil said.

The bust happened under Fort Myers Police Department's newly-hired black police chief. At the time, he was proud of how his officers conducted the mission. Chief Diggs emphasized the goal was to make the whole community safe.

"For people who say these boys have terrorized their community, what do you have to say to that?" Four in Your Corner's Lisa Greenberg asked Muwakkil.

"Though they commit atrocious acts, those are the acts we want law enforcement charging them with. We're not concerned with any other charges except the racketeering. Does it fit all of those men? We think not, as a community," Muwakkil said.

The Lee County NAACP will be hosting a meeting with their attorney to explain what exactly racketeering means, and help0 the families of those arrested understand what lies ahead.

The NAACP is also handing out surveys in the Harlem Lakes Community, asking people who live there if they've witnessed any organized crime.

Four in Your Corner reached out to the Fort Myers Police Department about what the NAACP is saying, but have not heard back yet.