NEW ORLEANS - A vast federal indictment involving murders, drugs, violence and conspiracy was unveiled Friday afternoon charging 13 members of an alleged Central City crime family with committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering and other serious crimes. Read the indictment
At the center of the investigation is notorious local killer Telly Hankton. He allegedly ran the operation, and relied on several associates and family members, including his 58-year-old mother.
Those charged include: Walter Porter, 37; Nakia Hankton, 34; Shirley Hankton, 58; Telly Hankton, 36; Thomas Hankton, 36; Troy Hankton, 28; George Jackson, 38; Derrick Smothers, 34; Andre Hankton, 35; Kevin Jackson, 39; Netthany Schexnayder, 33; Sana Johnson, 37; and Terrell Smothers, 36; all of New Orleans.
The feds linked members of the group to several shootings, as well as the murders of four men: Darnell Stewart, Jesse Reed, Hasan Williams and Curtis Matthews.
The indictment portrays a vast criminal network not seen in the city since the mid-1990s. And it was about that time, authorities say, that the Hankton operation got rolling.
Since then, they've allegedly moved hundreds of kilos of cocaine, some heroin, marijuana and more. And in order to run that drug business, authorities say, they shot, killed and intimidated people, including some of their own.
The indictment states they claimed Central City as their turf, with the borders of Jackson Avenue and St. Andrew Street, Simon Bolivar and Oretha Castle Haley.
Since at least 1996, the home base was a modest pink house in the 1900 block of Josephine Street.
Federal authorities swept the block early Friday morning before dawn, taking Shirley Hankton, the family matriarch, out in handcuffs. By mid-morning, the only sign of life there was an dog in the front yard.
Though she was the mom, her son Telly was the boss. Up until a murder conviction last year, he had a relatively clean criminal record.
But the indictment paints him as a veteran -- and sinister -- mastermind.
The feds say family, friends, even his mother, helped the gang prosper. And prosper they did, making countless millions, according to the indictment.
The indictment highlights a litany of alleged crimes. It also sheds new light on the high profile killing of Curtis Matthews, whose brother was a witness to an earlier Hankton killing.
Investigators allege that Telly Hankton's cousin, Thomas, paid the group's hitman $10,000 to murder John Matthews. Matthews had witnessed Telly murder a man in 2008.
The hitman, Walter Porter, allegedly tried, but never succeeded, and Matthews eventually testified against Telly Hankton.
And Porter allegedly went after Matthew's brother, who was found shot dead last October.
That killing provoked outrage in the community. Mayor Mitch Landrieu and others portrayed Telly Hankton as Public Enemy Number One, the most dangerous man in New Orleans.
Landrieu publicly stated he was “sending a message” to Hankton and his family and that law enforcement would be after them.
In November, a federal grand jury began hearing testimony on the case.
The indictment claims that Porter was the group's triggerman behind three separate murders. He has been in federal custody for months – held on separate gun and bank robbery charges.
Beyond violence, the feds say the group hatched a perjury scheme during Telly Hankton’s first murder trial, which ended in a hung jury in state court. The indictment
Federal investigators say the Hankton crime family ran the illegal drug trade in Central City for 17 years.
The 22-count, 42-page indictment states that between 1998 and 2003, Telly Hankton and his associates were buying and selling five to six kilos of cocaine every two weeks.
Five the 13 defendants named in the indictment – Telly, Thomas and Andre Hankton – along with Walter Porter and Kevin Jackson, face a possible death penalty.
“This RICO indictment deals with the most serious crimes that can be alleged, murder, murder of witnesses, murder of witnesses who were involved in criminal prosecutions,” said Eyewitness News legal analyst Chick Foret.
The RICO– Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization – Act is used by federal prosecutors to attack organized crime.
In the Hankton indictment, federal prosecutors claim the group concealed more than $43 million in ill-gotten gain.
Foret, a former federal prosecutor, said much of the information likely came from a source within the organization.
“It has been my experience that you do not get that much specificity to put into an indictment without several people cooperating and sitting down with the government,” he said.
Foret added that prosecuting this case in the federal system will likely mean hard time for many of the defendants.
“The difference between the case being in federal court and state court is the vast nature of resources,” Foret said.
WWL-TV reporter also Paul Murphy contributed to this story.