Federal gun trial to begin for suspected North Side gang member

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Federal agents were gratified when they were able to take down two violent North Side gangs in 2010 with an indictment that eventually saw 26 gangsters plead guilty and go to prison.

But they also felt they missed one -- Akeem Caldwell.

Now they hope they can send him to join his friends behind bars.

Jury selection began today for his U.S. District Court trial on a charge of illegal possession of a gun by a convicted felon, which could put him in a cell for at least five years.

Caldwell, 27, identified by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as a member of the Northview Heights Crips, has been down this road before. He pleaded guilty in 2006 to possession of a gun by a felon and was sentenced to 37 months in prison.

In January of this year, Pittsburgh police on patrol in Northview Heights confronted him on Penfort Street and said he threw a loaded gun to the ground. He was charged in state court with illegal possession.

ATF agents then arranged to have Caldwell arrested on a federal warrant when he showed up for his hearing in city court on April 4.

On the drive to the federal courthouse that day, according to a transcript, ATF Agent Maurice Ferentino told Caldwell that ATF "missed" him in the 2010 indictment of the Crips brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Agent Ferentino said he had presented evidence against Caldwell as part of that case but that the U.S. attorney's office declined to prosecute.

Now agents have a second chance. Gun prosecutions used to be handled by the district attorney's office, but the cases were often dismissed or dropped as part of plea bargains. Under Project Safe Neighborhoods, a federal initiative, such cases are now prosecuted federally, where the penalties are much stiffer and prison terms are served in facilities far away from home.

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Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.


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