Fifteen Peoria men, who police say are a part of a street gang, were indicted last week under the Federal Rico (Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organization) Act.
Federal authorities alleged those men conspired to commit several acts of violence...some of which include murder. But their families are furious, claiming authorities are wrong about their loved ones.
25 News Reporter Lauren Melendez sat down with the mother and and two sisters of the men indicted, to hear their sides of the story.
Keonia Bovan's son, 19-year-old Kentrevion Watkins was one of those charged on June 26th. Latrice Winston's brother Torieuanno White was also in the group, charged with using a 'firearm in a crime of violence' and 'felon in possession of a firearm.'
Both women acknowledged their relatives aren't perfect, but were adamant they were NOT in the Bomb Squad Gang.
In the 63-page federal indictment, the alleged gang members were charged with racketeering conspiracy and violating that RICO Act.
"I'm a firm believer of the justice system ...this is all ludacris." Bovan said during her interview. She has three sons. One was an honor student, the other had a job with Caterpillar and until a few years ago, her youngest, Kentrevion was on the road to following in their footsteps, but now, he could potentially face life in prison if convicted of the aforementioned crimes.
"I always supported my son. I always taught him right from wrong. He was raised in a two parent household" she continued to explain. Bovan openly acknowledged the first thing people ask when a young person gets in trouble is 'where were their parents?' Bovan says "right here!"
Bovan's says around sixteen,Kentrevion began skipping school, but she straightened him out; however she explains he doesn't even know the other 14 men accused of racketeering, attempted murder and drug trafficking, among other charges.
Three years ago Bovan says she went to the Peoria Police station, as well as the state's attorney's office, to ask for suggestions n ways to prevent him from making bad associations.
"We don't have any 'boys and girls" clubs. we don't have any big brother mentors. i wanted to know where are the organizations that help these young boys before they go down that route and no one gave me an answer. " she explained with frustration.
So she decided to get all the parents of the men indicted together to register to vote and then, to help support each other in their quest for answers. All of this became Operation Lion's Den.
Latrice Winston, Torieunno White's sister says she was baffled when her brother was arrested, stating that not only was he always with family, but he had very few friends and was well taken care of. She confiendtly discounted any notion that he would join a gang for financial reasons.
So the question remains - how and why would Police suspect them of gang activity? Winston answered the question by explaining they're all from the same neighborhood, Harrison Homes.
"How are they all gonna be tried together when they don't even hang around each other? My brother doesn't know what her son does. They're all in different age groups." she added.
25 News tried several times to ask similar questions of Peoria County State's Attorney Jerry Brady, for clarification on how police built the case, but he was not available.
The members of Operation Lion's Den also have a petition circulating, hoping to get the Rico Act charges tossed. They say, even if that doesn't work, they do not plan to stop seeking justice or answers. For more information on Operation Lion's Den , you can reach Founder, Keonia Bovan, here.