Caseyville suspect is one of 12 being prosecuted under Hobbs Act

News-DemocratJanuary 19, 2014 

The armed robbery at Ferguson Television and Satellite is being prosecuted under the Metro-east Armed Robbery Initiative. U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton is the lead attorney on this case.

Wigginton has charged 12 people, including Phillip T. Smith, 28, of Caseyville, the suspect in the Ferguson robbery, under the initiative, more commonly known as the Hobbs Act, which makes it a crime to obstruct, delay or affect interstate commerce by robbery.

The 12 people are alleged to have committed at least 14 armed robberies at local businesses. They include:

* An armed robbery at Chili's in Fairview Heights in August 2013. Two individuals pleaded guilty and a third is awaiting trial on March 17.

* A BP gas station robbery in Cahokia on Oct. 9, 2013. Carvin Brooks is charged in the case and is scheduled for trial Feb. 24.

* The Circle K robbery in Belleville that occurred on July 22 and again Aug. 13. London M. Brown pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing Jan. 24.

* The case involving the alleged hijacking of a USPS driver in East St. Louis in 2012. The suspect pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial Feb. 12.

* A robbery at East St. Louis Jewelry and Loan Pawn Shop. The suspect, Timothy Collier, is set for trial April 28.

* Ramone C. Cunningham, of Madison, County for allegedly robbing a cab driver. He is awaiting trial.

Wigginton said he and St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly and Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons have been aggressively pursuing these armed robbery cases in the metro-east involving commercial businesses.

"In three months, we've indicted at least a dozen individuals in over 14 known armed robberies," said Wigginton. "I believe that in doing so, our actions speak louder than words."

Wigginton said he and the two state's attorneys work closely together to determine whether an armed robber should be prosecuted at the state or federal level.

"We've reviewed eight armed robberies with our state's attorney partners. Of those charged in St. Clair County and Madison County, another four are under continuing investigation."

Wigginton continued, "We've also received great support from the Illinois State Police, the St. Clair County Sheriff's Office, the Madison County Sheriff's Office, as well as all of the local law enforcement agencies."

Usually in armed robbery cases, the local state's attorneys have jurisdiction, especially against individuals and in residences. But when they occur at commercial businesses, it can affect commerce, he said.

The Armed Robbery Initiative was started "as a result of the dramatic increase in brazen violent armed robberies at restaurants, convenience marts/gas stations and jewelry stores in the metro-east area. We have especially powerful tools in the federal criminal arena to deal with armed robberies occurring in commercial establishments," Wigginton said.

Wigginton pointed out after the owner of Ferguson Television and Satellite was shot six times in November, the business stayed closed for two months.

What does he look for when evaluating a case?

"I look to see whether a gun was possessed, brandished or discharged. When we charge an individual in the federal system, we charge them with two counts. First, under the Hobbs Act -- robbery that interfered with interstate commerce. This carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years," Wigginton said.

"If you brandish the gun, there's a mandatory consecutive term of at least seven years under the federal sentencing guidelines," he continued.

"A person's prior criminal history is very important in determining where they are placed in terms of the guideline chart. The more serious the criminal history is will determine how the individual is characterized on the federal sentencing guideline chart."

Wigginton said his office "is going after the most-violent offenders -- those who carry guns illegally and use them to rob and cause harm to the citizens of Illinois."

Wigginton said several of the cases that his office is prosecuting "were made possible by good citizens being vigilant in their surroundings and providing information that proved significant in our investigation.

"Citizens should take an active role in policing their neighborhoods by forming a Neighborhood Watch group, formally or informally. At the very least neighbors should keep an eye on one another and help one another as well as help law enforcement to protect you," Wigginton said.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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