HAMMOND | One of the gang members arrested last year in connection with the decade-old murder of East Chicago resident Julio Cartagena pleaded guilty Monday to his role in the homicide.
Kiontay K. Pennington, 35, of Chicago, entered into a plea agreement earlier in which he agreed to plead guilty to a charge of homicide in aid of racketeering activity.
Under the agreement with federal prosecutors, Pennington's sentence would not exceed 30 years. If the court rejects this provision, the agreement gives Pennington the right to withdraw the plea.
At a lightly attended sentencing hearing Monday afternoon, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Philip P. Simon said he would defer this decision on whether to accept the plea agreement until after a pre-sentence investigation report on Pennington is completed.
Pennington was one of four men charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Hammond last year in connection with the May 16, 2003, murder of Cartagena. As part of his plea agreement, Pennington is to cooperate with authorities, which could include testifying against other co-defendants. Smith noted the U.S. Attorney's office could file a motion seeking a reduced sentence for Pennington if it believes he provided useful and helpful information.
Others charged in the case are Jesus V. Fuentes, Oscar Cosme, and Adron H. Tancil. Fuentes was allegedly one of the leaders of the Dark Side Two Six, an East Chicago affiliate of the Chicago-area street gang Two Six. A status hearing in the case is set for May 16.
According to the indictment, in September 2002, Cartagena, also an alleged member of the gang, stole a large quantity of cocaine that Fuentes had allegedly obtained from a Mexican drug-trafficking cartel.
During the ensuing months, the indictment states, Fuentes enlisted the help of fellow gang members Pennington, Tancil, Louis Henderson and longtime friend Cosme to locate Cartagena and recover the drugs or the proceeds from any sale of the drugs.
Fuentes, supposedly in Mexico at the time trafficking drugs and running a recording studio, allegedly gave orders to place a tracking device on Cartagena's whereabouts.
When that proved unsuccessful, the indictment states that Fuentes directed Pennington, Henderson and other gang members to kidnap Cartagena's children and the children's mother to pressure him to return the drugs or money. Hammond police quickly rescued the family, and no one was harmed.
Fuentes then allegedly ordered Cartegna kidnapped. On May 16, 2003, Pennington, Tancil, Henderson and Cosme allegedly shot and killed Cartagena during the attempted kidnapping. Their getaway vehicle crashed and Henderson was killed, according to prosecutors.
At Monday's sentencing hearing, Pennington said he did not know who fired the shot that killed Cartagena. He said he was approaching Cartagena with a Taser when Cartagena saw him and moved to the other side of the truck. Shots from multiple weapons were then allegedly fired at Cartagena.