The rise and fall of West Side gang boss Labar ‘Bro Man’ Spann

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CHICAGO — By late 2012, it was no secret that police were closely watching Labar “Bro Man” Spann and his associates. That was the case for much of the previous 15 years.

Spann, a notorious West Side crime boss linked to dozens of acts of violence and intimidation, was already a focus in several other protracted investigations involving local and federal agencies — not to mention the rival gangs who wanted him dead.

He survived at least two attempts on his life, including a shooting in 1999 that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

He knew what to look out for.

“When you come out that house, you gotta pay attention,” Spann testified last month. “You gotta be aware to be alive.”

In 2003, Spann’s crew — formed out of the larger Four Corner Hustlers street gang — was suspected in at least 16 murders.

He’s pleaded guilty to armed robbery and witness tampering, but Spann, now 42, was twice acquitted of murder in state court. Though he was held in jail for more than six years — where, records show, he maintained a key role in gang operations — Spann largely avoided prison, despite being a target for prosecution for the better part of 20 years.

Booking photos of Labar “Bro Man” Spann | Chicago police photos

That changed late Monday afternoon when a federal jury convicted Spann of a racketeering conspiracy that linked him and his crew to the murders of four men — two other gang chiefs among them — between 2000 and 2003. Spann was also convicted of extortion and murder in aid of racketeering, which carries a mandatory life sentence.

Federal prosecutors tied Spann to two other murders, both in 2000. Jurors, however, found that Spann’s involvement in those wasn’t proven beyond a reasonable doubt. John Lausch, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, was among those seated in an overflow room to listen to the jury’s verdict.

Spann and three other men — Sammie Booker, Tremayne Thompson and Juhwun Foster — were linked to the murders. Seven others were charged, and all of Spann’s co-defendants reached plea agreements with prosecutors before going to trial.

Along with the slayings, prosecutors accused Spann and his co-defendants of wielding violence and fear to profit off the West Side drug trade from the late 1990s through 2017.

Spann and his crew regularly extorted and robbed drug dealers, sometimes charging a “street tax” to sell narcotics on a given block. Other times, Spann stole drugs that he later sold to those who worked for him.

Testifying in his own defense, Spann denied any involvement with the six killings, and he claimed that he was lying when he pleaded guilty in some of his previous criminal cases — including in a separate federal gun case for which he has yet to be sentenced.

Spann freely admitted to committing “licks” — slang for robberies — but he said that he renounced all gang affiliations in 1998 and that remained the case even when he was incarcerated.

“That’s one thing, I don’t claim nothing,” he said. “My name hold weight. I’m Bro Man.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Storino said there was a clear organizational structure to the enterprise and Spann was undeniably at the top.

“He is not a petty drug dealer, he is not a petty thief. That is preposterous,” Storino said during his closing arguments in the eight-week trial at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. “He is a Four Corner Hustler. He is a smart, ruthless and manipulative gang leader. He is a person who kills, he robs, he extorts and he intimidates others all in the furtherance of his gang, the Four Corner Hustlers, and he has done it for over two decades.”

Steven Shobat, one of Spann’s attorneys, argued that the prosecution’s case was built on the testimony of compulsive liars who desperately wanted to see Spann go to prison.

“Even with these witnesses, the government has no case. And the reason is really quite simple,” Shobat said. “These witnesses are unreliable. They’re not people you can put your trust and faith in. They’re not people you can believe. They are people who you would run away from at the first opportunity because you know their background, their character and the fact that they do nothing but lie.”

“My name hold weight. I’m Bro Man.”

Labar spann testifying in his defense last month

Violence has remained a constant throughout Spann’s life.

At least two of his brothers were murdered. Four years after he was paralyzed, Spann survived another shooting. Several of his close gang allies — including an unindicted co-conspirator who Spann referred to as “my legs” — were shot and killed over the years. But Spann’s ambition as a gangster hardly subsided.

And that remained the case until federal investigators finally caught up with him in 2015 following an ill-fated visit to a southwest suburban gun range.

As a convicted felon, Spann couldn’t legally possess or fire a weapon, but he took to Instagram to brag about his prowess with firearms after a trip to Midwest Sporting Goods, a gun range in Lyons. He pleaded guilty in 2017 to weapons and narcotics charges in that case, but only after he pressured a co-defendant to deny his involvement when testifying to a federal grand jury. He has yet to be sentenced in that case.

Storino and the other prosecutors argued that Spann was behind three murders in 2000:

Carlos Caldwell on Jan. 19, Maximillion McDaniel on July 25 and Levar Smith on April 16.

Six months before Caldwell was killed, he shot Spann in the chest when Spann tried to rob him. The shooting left Spann paralyzed from the waist down.

Prosecutors said Spann ordered Sammie Booker — a co-defendant who ultimately cooperated with prosecutors — to kill Caldwell, but jurors found that the feds didn’t prove Spann’s involvement.

McDaniel was marked for death after Spann learned that he was cooperating with law enforcement in the murder prosecution of Spann’s father, himself a leader of the Black Souls gang. Booker shot and killed McDaniel, too.

Smith was killed because he affiliated with a rival faction of Four Corner Hustlers. Booker and another man waited outside Smith’s house all night and killed him as he was getting into his car to leave for work in the morning. Jurors also found that prosecutors didn’t meet the burden of proof in Smith’s killing.

Sammie Booker | Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office photo

Spann was involved in three more murders in 2003: George King on April 8, Willie “Foots” Woods on April 16 and Rudy “Kato” Rangel on June 4.

Thompson and Foster killed King, a street-level drug dealer, in an effort to flush out another, higher ranking gang leader who Spann was at odds with.

Woods was killed eight days later, also by Thompson and Foster. Woods was another leader of the Black Souls gang, and his murder was contracted out after he threatened the operations of a West Side drug trafficker who supplied Spann with narcotics.

The Rangel killing was the most high-profile of the six that Spann was charged in.

Rangel was a leader of Chicago’s Latin Kings who grew up with Pedro and Margarito Flores — twin brothers from Little Village who became two of Chicago’s most prolific drug traffickers while working for former Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera.

But Rangel kept busy outside of the city’s criminal underground. He was a husband and father with a budding career in music industry. He had close ties with well-known rappers DMX and Fat Joe, and Rangel founded his own record label, “Dinero Records.”

After Rangel’s death, DMX released the song “Ayo Kato” in his memory.

Rangel liked flashy jewelry, too. And though he traveled with a bodyguard, he was still a robbery target.

In 2003, Rangel had a bigger problem. Rumors that he stole 150 kilos — 330 pounds — of cocaine were spreading across the West Side, police records show. “Kato” was wanted dead, and word of the $200,000 contract on his head eventually reach Spann.

On June 4, the 30-year-old Rangel was getting a haircut at a makeshift barbershop that operated in a trailer near the corner of Roosevelt and Sacramento.

Meanwhile, Donell “Squeaky” Simmons, armed with a handgun, walked through an alley to the trailer. Rangel’s back was to the door as he and the others inside were watching Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and New Jersey Nets.

Simmons walked in and opened fire, killing Rangel and wounding a barber and Rangel’s bodyguard. Simmons took off running, leaving behind the jewelry that was valued at more than $200,000.

Police and prosecutors said at the time that the shooting stemmed from a botched robbery attempt that was organized by Spann, Martise Nunnery and a third man who acted as a lookout. Spann and Nunnery drove to the trailer with Simmons and gave him the gun, according to police records.

Shortly after Rangel’s death, his widow — the daughter of a Chicago police officer — took up with Margarito Flores and later fled to Mexico to stay at a Sinaloa compound. She also co-authored a book with Pedro Flores’ wife about their time there, titled “Cartel Wives.”

The Flores twins later turned state’s witnesses and testified against “El Chapo.” Both of their wives were charged earlier this year with laundering drug trafficking proceeds earned by the twins.

Rudy “Kato” Rangel and DMX | Provided photo

Nunnery, Simmons, Spann and the lookout, John Coleman, were all arrested and charged in Rangel’s murder a few months later. All were found guilty but Spann, who was acquitted in a bench trial and eventually released from the Cook County Jail in 2009.

In bringing the charges in Rangel’s murder, police and prosecutors relied heavily on conversations that were recorded by a cooperating informant — a West Side drug dealer who could move freely among the city’s gang factions.

Testifying in his own defense, Spann vehemently denied any involvement in Rangel’s killing or any of the other five he was tied to. He also said that he was aware of the recordings and purposely fed the informant bogus information.

“I’m rockin’ him to sleep the whole time,” Spann said of the cooperator.

One high-ranking West Side gang member told police that Spann kept his finger on the pulse of gang operations during his six-year stay at the Cook County Jail.

“He related the area of Springfield and Jackson were [sic] controlled by Four Corner Hustlers who did not honor Spann and because of that an internal war broke out,” a CPD detective wrote after interviewing the man in a federal prison. “He stated that he talked to Spann while Spann was in the jail. Spann urged his people not to let up in spite of him being in jail. He said Spann gave the orders to accelerate the war from inside the jail.”

Spann remained a priority for law enforcement after his 2009 release from jail.

The following year, former CPD Supt. Jody Weis organized a meeting between law enforcement figures and some of the city’s most influential gang leaders at the Golden Dome in Garfield Park. It was there that Weis and other lawmen delivered a message to Spann and his contemporaries.

“We are focusing on group responsibility,” Weis said at the time. “If one of these guys should kill another gang member, we are going to come down on them with all the firepower we have.”

“I said, ‘The word you need to remember is RICO,’” Weis prophesized. “Go talk to the mafia. They know that word very well.”

After the meeting, Spann told the Chicago Sun-Times that his parole officer duped him into attending.

“It was a gimmick,” Spann said at the time. “They told us we had to go to a meeting because of our parole.

“They want to lock us up for something we didn’t do,” he added.

Scores of local and federal law enforcement officers were involved in investigating Spann over the years, including two who would ultimately be sent to federal prison for their own crimes.

Police records show that former CPD officer Jerome Finnigan was involved in Spann’s first murder case in 1996. Spann — then a member of the “Gordys” faction of the Four Corner Hustlers — allegedly punched a woman in the face, triggering a conflict with members of a nearby faction of Unknown Vice Lords. One of those Vice Lords was related to the woman who Spann punched.

Leaders of both gang factions called a meeting to clear the air, but no resolution came, according to police records. Spann and two other Four Corner Hustlers then walked to the corner of Lexington and Springfield to wait for the Vice Lords who were headed east back to their territory. When their car passed by, Spann and the others opened fire, according to police records.

None of the Vice Lords were shot, but the driver lost control of the car and ran over a 31-year-old city subcontractor, Wayne Lucas, who was laying fresh asphalt nearby. Lucas, a father of five, was taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital and pronounced dead 12 hours later.

The car involved in a 1996 shooting and crash that led to the death of Wayne Lucas. | Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office photo

Spann was eventually found not guilty, but his co-defendants were both convicted and sentenced to several decades in prison.

Finnigan was the ringleader of a rogue band of CPD officers who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from drug dealers and civilians alike. In 2011, he was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to a murder-for-hire plot and tax evasion.

His and Spann’s paths would cross again a few years after Lucas’ death.

One of Spann’s younger half-brothers, Michael, was arrested in the 600 block of North Avers, a block where, at one point, Spann allegedly kept a stash house.

After the arrest, Finnigan and another former CPD officer, Timothy McDermott, were photographed holding hunting rifles over Michael Spann, who was lying on the floor with deer antlers on his head and his tongue hanging out of his mouth.

The Chicago Sun-Times obtained and published the photo in 2015. Michael Spann’s father, Michael Smith, told the newspaper in 2016 that the photo could have been a message to Spann.

“It could have been a sign to show his brother that they weren’t playing…We called those cops the ‘beat-down boys’ — they did whatever they wanted,” Smith said.

Michael Spann was killed in a drive-by shooting in the 600 block of North Avers in 2007.

Former Chicago police officers Jerome Finnigan, left, and Timothy McDermott, right, pose with hunting rifles as they stand over Michael Spann, Labar Spann’s younger half-brother. | Court file photo

Former CPD Sgt. Xavier Elizondo was sentenced to nearly six years in federal prison in 2020 after he and another officer were convicted of cooking up bogus search warrants as a way to rob criminal suspects. He was also heavily involved in investigating Spann.

Between late 2012 and early 2013, Elizondo submitted four affidavits that were used to acquire wiretaps on several of Spann’s phones.

In the first affidavit, Elizondo referenced other investigations into Spann that were unsuccessful.

“In May 2003, Operation Five-K was initiated by members of the Chicago Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms,” Elizondo wrote. “The operation focused on Spann and the Four Corner Hustlers and their possible involvement in sixteen (16) homicides.”

Elizondo noted that it was difficult to convince informants to testify against Spann in open court.

“Several cooperating individuals have provided information as part of this investigation but they are not willing to testify against Spann because of fear of retaliation,” he wrote.

Elizondo was criminally charged in 2018 as the case against Spann and his co-defendants was moving forward, placing federal prosecutors in the uncomfortable position of simultaneously prosecuting Elizondo for lying in one case while defending the veracity of his statements in another.

Eventually, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin allowed the wiretap evidence collected by Elizondo’s team to be used in Spann’s trial.

Elizondo’s affidavits laid out in great detail some of the means by which Spann and company made money over the years. Not limited to just the theft and sale of narcotics, other gangs would hire the crew to chase off rivals.

“The subjects informed investigators that, if someone wanted to open up a spot [to sell drugs], they would contact Spann and request that he eliminate the group that was operating on that spot and any opposition,” Elizondo wrote. “Conversely, if one spot was in opposition with another spot, Spann would be contacted to ‘handle the business,’ or settle the dispute through violence.”

Another longtime CPD officer familiar with the West Side drug trade said of the arrangement:

“To outsource like that, it’s pretty rare because a lot of dope guys don’t like the stick-up man because he’s taking their customers. But to use him against your opponents, you know, is actually pretty smart.”

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