JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - An undercover investigation of a Jacksonville gang resulted in ten arrests for racketeering, including two men and one woman being charged in connection to murder cases.
A special gang task force started tracking the Problem Child Entertainment gang in 2014. Over the years, investigators said, several members have been tied to murders, including the 2016 drive-by killing of 22-month-old Aiden McClendon and July's shooting death of 23-year-old Glen McNeil Jr.
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The I-TEAM learned Wednesday that Jacksonville Sheriff's Office detectives, along with the FBI, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and State Attorney's Office, worked for a year targeting the most dangerous and violent criminals, whose crimes include attempted murders, shootings, robberies, burglaries, thefts and drug dealing, authorities said.
"It was a complicated case. It took time," FDLE Jacksonville Special Agent in Charge John Burke said during a Thursday afternoon news conference about the year-long operation.
Sheriff Mike Williams said there are about 40 documented gangs with about 800 members operating in Jacksonville. He described Problem Child Entertainment, known as PCE, as a ”street gang masquerading as an entertainment group.”
Williams said PCE's “reign of terror has come to an end. Our community has had enough.”
Kquame Richardson, 18, faces six charges, including Aiden's fatal shooting. Henry Hayes IV, now 18, was arrested last year and is also charged with murder in Aiden's death.
Hayes' older sister, Cynthia, 21, was arrested on Friday. Sources said she was an enabler who helped other members of the gang by renting them cars and driving getaway vehicles.
"It was a big step forward in that case," Williams said. "We were really starting (to) take a harder look and see a lot of the players and begin to make the connection of them being involved in the same type of organization."
Danny Hadden, 20, faces two racketeering counts, and the I-TEAM learned he is linked to the gun used to killed McNeil in Jacksonville Beach as Fourth of July festivities wound down.
New documents from prosecutors show other the arrested gang members planned to ambush and kill a police officer in his patrol car using an AK-47, but police had been watching them -- monitoring their social media accounts, reading their messages and getting names from those already in jail.
"The violent gangs are rising across the country. It is rising every year," Spencer said. "There is an uptick in the violence. There is an uptick in the gang activity."
Many of the charges were brought under federal racketeering laws that allows police to round up and arrest suspected gang members, charging them as a group. State Attorney Melissa Nelson has assigned six prosecutors to handle prosecution of those arrested, who face up to 30 years in prison for their involvement in the gang. Repeat offenders and those linked to murders could spend their lives behind bars.
"We have disabled an organization," Nelson said.
Former gang member Ivan Brown, who now fights to get people out of the life of organized crime, praised the effort of law enforcement to crack down on violent gangs.
"There’s a lot of stuff going on on the streets," Brown said. "I know they got their hands full and they are doing a hell of a job."
Brown said murder is considered just part of the gang's business.
"These kids don’t know nothing. They are actually afraid," Brown said. "You’ve got guys are coming out here that are young. Young girls, too. Don’t get me confused, because these girls are killing, too."
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