Members of Youngstown street gang LSP ruled their territory with violence and threats.
And when that didn't work, they would attempt to pay off those who could testify against them, sources say.
Local and federal investigators working to dismantle LSP, named for Laclede, Sherwood, Parkview and Princeton avenues where the gang operated, believe it was Youngstown's largest street gang. With about 50 members and associates, they say gang members specialized mostly in crack cocaine trafficking.
Last month, following a lengthy investigation headed by the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force Gang Unit and the ATF, 31 people, including 29 that police say are known gang members, were charged on federal and state counts.
Dozens of other gangs exist in the city, police say, each having a stronghold on various areas of Youngstown, using it in the drug trade that police estimate generates $8 million in sales each month.
LSP was the first gang targeted recently by law enforcement. Authorities believe members used gang signs, making the letters L, S and P, with their hands, getting the letters tattooed on their bodies and spray-painting graffiti in their territory.
During their investigation, police say they found several pictures of accused gang members posing with each other, doing gang signs, with tattoos, and often times with guns and bulletproof vests, on social web sites like MySpace.
LSP started like many others. The core group grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same schools, including Chaney High School. At the time, two other small gangs who called themselves BBH and BMF began a MySpace Internet feud.
Police said the two groups were dismantled in their infancy after members attended a party May 26, 2007, and gunfire erupted. Bullets struck and killed 17-year-old Marissa Patterson. Deon Glenn, 20 at the time, was convicted of murder and five counts of attempted murder. He is serving a 35-years-to-life sentence.
Police say LSP arose from remaining members.
A federal indictment filed last month alleges of several shootings and close to 100 drug sales to confidential informants during the task force's and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' two-year joint investigation.
The investigation stalled in April 2010, when the men believed to be the group's two leaders, Daquann Hackett and Derrick Johnson Jr., found a recording device strapped to a confidential informant during a drug transaction. The indictment says they dragged the informant to the basement at 741 W. Laclede Ave. and beat the informant until police interceded causing ''serious injuries.''
Hackett was arrested and indicted federally. He and Johnson now face more than 100 years in prison.
''That blew the top off the investigation,'' said Task Force head Sgt. Michael Lambert. ''Once that happened, they realized how much trouble was coming and who was looking at them, and things calmed down. That and the quick removal of a couple guys. It forced us to go back to nuts and bolts things because of the damage.''
The investigation was aided by a gang member who informed on his counterparts.
''I pulled a guy aside, and I said 'Listen, whatever is going to be, is going to be. But in the meantime, do yourself a favor. All these guys you're hanging around with, start writing down everything they do wrong. Just for your own use, in case something should happen in the future,' '' he said. ''Well, it did, and he did. Everything they did wrong, he wrote it down. I said maybe you won't need it, but I bet you will.''
Court documents indicate members of LSP ruled their territory with violence and threats and attempted to pay off those who could testify against them. Talvinber Singh, who used to work at the Ohio Gas Mart on 2637 Glenwood Ave., was shot twice in the chest by accused LSP member Shawn Jones on Feb. 3, 2008.
Buying a defense
Singh said he caught Jones stealing a 59-cent candy many times and asked him to never return. On that day, however, Jones returned with a gun and shot Singh twice in the chest, narrowly missing his heart. Singh said he was in the hospital for two weeks and still has constant pain.
Jones pleaded guilty in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court and was sentenced to serve six years in prison.
What happened next shocked Singh. He said someone came and offered him $5,000 to not testify against Jones at his trial. He refused. They returned again and offered $15,000. Again he refused. The final offer was $20,000.
''I don't want that money, I told them,'' Singh said. ''I said I'd only take it if it covered my hospital bills, which was about $50,000 or $60,000.''
Tracine and Richard Kerns, the parents of Wayne Kerns, charged in the 23-count indictment and accused of being a member of LSP, said their son always was raised in a good home. They remain skeptical of the allegations against their son and say he was not part of the gang.
Ironically, Tracine is a member of the faith-based community group A.C.T.I.O.N., which prompted the state attorney general and members of the state and federal legislature to focus their resources on fighting crime in Youngstown after the two high-profile murders in late September and early October last year.
She and her husband of 30 years have fostered 56 children over the years, adopting two, including Wayne, whose mother was addicted to drugs during pregnancy. Tracine recalled how Wayne went through withdrawal as a child, screaming for hours, and how he was hooked up to a heart monitor in case it stopped, which it did several times.
The Kerns said growing up, Wayne struggled in school because of dyslexia and the school system's inability to help him learn how to learn. When he was in seventh grade, Richard Kerns said, he tested at a second-grade level.
The Kerns never let their son party, and he was a talented member of the Mount Calvary church choir.
But when he was around 17 years old, Wayne started to walk the streets with a family friend who was staying at the Kerns' home. He also started smoking marijuana, his mother said.
Wayne's biological brother, Marvin Boone, was shot and killed Jan. 29, 2007, along with three other people at 548 W. Evergreen Ave. No arrest has been made in the case.
''It's so much different when you can't be with them 24 hours a day,'' Tracine said. ''I would tell him, you don't have to worry about that, you were brought out of that. Some of that I think was fear.''
But both Richard and Tracine are highly skeptical of the allegations against their son. According to records, Wayne Kerns pleaded guilty to two counts of felonious assault with gang specifications and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Police reports said Kerns drove Derrick Johnson on a drive-by shooting March 18, 2009. Johnson shot Sherrick Jackson and John Mitchell. Johnson also was shot. Reports said Kerns approached officers investigating the shooting and told them he was approached by Johnson who wanted a ride.
Tracine and Richard said Wayne was on his way to pick up a friend to go with him to the hospital for the birth of his first son, which turned out to be a false alarm. Richard said he allowed Wayne to take his car.
"He was going to pick up his other buddy. He ran into the other boys, and they said, 'we'll give you gas money,' '' Richard Kerns said. "I kick myself because I didn't want to give him the car. I said OK, go to the hospital and come right back. It wasn't two hours later someone came to my house asking if I had talked to Wayne."
The two years it took for the case to run its course put a tremendous strain on the Kerns. Tracine said she finally came to terms with it when she realized her son could serve an 18-month sentence if he had good behavior.
"My son needed to sit down for a minute," she said. "I was upset. But all the sudden I was relaxed and I know God did that. But any longer than that, it would destroy him."
Now they're going through it all over again. The drive-by shooting is linked to the current indictment, which alleges Wayne Kerns used the drive-by to enhance his position in the gang. Tracine and Richard don't believe it.
They said federal authorities approached Wayne about six months ago and asked him if he would give them information on the gang in exchange for lesser charges. But, his parents say, he declined to assist the investigation because he wasn't part of the gang.
"The fact is, that shooting was over a girl," Richard said. "But the feds are trying to tie it into a criminal enterprise. They're already done with that case. To me that sounds like double jeopardy. I don't feel any safer. I never knew these kids were around. There's a lot of kids there that did nothing, but be at the wrong place at the wrong time.''