Gang violence in Cleveland a high priority for FBI as Justice Dept. pushes steeper charges

Earlier this year, the DOJ announced federal charges, similar to those used against the mafia, to crack down on gang activity.
Published: Jul. 24, 2023 at 11:19 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A high-ranking agent at the FBI’s Cleveland office says gang violence is a top threat for investigators nationwide and in Northeast Ohio.

“Gang violence has certainly always been an issue but this year, in particular in Cleveland, seems to be more violent than normal,” said Todd Krajeck, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Cleveland field office.

“Partnerships are the key to pretty much everything we work in the FBI,” he said. “Investigating gang activity and disrupting gangs is no different. We depend on our partnership specifically with the Cleveland Division of Police. We work hand in hand with their gang impact unit.”

While agents based in Northeast Ohio work with local police, there has also been a very recent and public push by the Department of Justice to crack down on gang violence through harsher penalties.

At a press conference in May, Andy Luger, the United States Attorney in Minneapolis, announced a more aggressive approach to prosecuting gang members and leaders.

Luger announced 45 alleged gang members and associates were arrested and booked on federal charges, including murder and racketeering.

The charges are comparable to those filed in the criminal cases that helped take down the mafia in the 1980s and 90s.

“[The] announcement marks a fundamental change in how we address gang violence,” Luger said in May. “We are prosecuting street gangs as the criminal organizations they are.”

While the FBI in Cleveland has maintained a relationship with local police and task forces, the comments by Luger signified sweeping changes.

“If there are federal charges that we can bring that will put violent criminals away in federal facilities for as long as possible, I think that’s everybody’s shared goal” Krajeck told 19 News. “Bringing federal charges is significant because... [criminals] don’t realize that they’re not going to prison, or jail in Cuyahoga County or Mansfield Correctional, or in Lucas County. They’re going to be going far away to Missouri, North Dakota, Colorado. So it definitely hits them pretty hard when they realize it’s a little different than they’re used to.”

While some gangs throughout the country are more organized, Krajeck said many of the gangs in Cleveland tend to be more neighborhood-based with no national affiliation.

On Monday, FBI Director Christopher Wray was in Cleveland to deliver a keynote address at the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives’ annual meeting.

Director Wray also met with chiefs from across the 40 northern counties in Ohio.

According to an FBI spokesperson, the Director’s roundtable session with law enforcement began by thanking them for their service to protecting the public and their partnership with the FBI. He also singled out the recent FBI and local law enforcement accomplishment in Marion County where 31 people were arrested as part of a drug trafficking organization, netting enough fentanyl to kill every person in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.