HAMMOND | A ranking member of a region street gang offered a cautionary tale to other would-be gang members Thursday ahead of his afternoon federal sentencing hearing.
"I really want all the children and young adults to really be informed and to consider my message. Gang life is not all fun and games. It's not always glamorous as they make it seem," Alexander Vargas, 34, said in a prepared statement provided to The Times by his brother.
"Learn from me, or you will end up dead or in jail. You will destroy families as well as your own. I ask for forgiveness from my community and all I have wronged."
Vargas, of Highland, was sentenced Thursday to 23 years in federal prison and five years supervised release after pleading guilty in February 2012 to a litany of gang, drug and murder-related charges.
At his sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court, Vargas repeated similar apologies for his actions as a supervising member of the Latin Kings' regional drug and violence enterprise. About 30 of Vargas' friends and family watched, some silently weeping, as the hearing progressed.
U.S. District Court Judge Rudy Lozano stressed several times throughout the hearing that Vargas could have faced life in prison — or even the death penalty — as his crimes led to at least two murders.
But Lozano, at the recommendation of federal prosecutors, opted for the 23-year sentence, noting Vargas' cooperation in other gang cases took several other dangerous men off the street.
Prosecutors credited Vargas' cooperation with building successful cases against as many as 23 defendants in the sweeping gang conspiracy.
"Without question, you deserve to spend the rest of your life in prison," Lozano told Vargas.
The judge likened Vargas' criminal file to a "horror novel" of the worst things people can do to one another.
"People lost their lives," Lozano said. "People had their lives ruined by having the monkey put on their back, which was drugs."
But Lozano noted that even with the more lenient sentence, Vargas would not be a young man on his release and would miss out on the most important years in the lives of his five children.
Vargas was a regional Inca within the Latin Kings street gang, which meant he controlled gang members in the Chicago area and consulted with gang members in Texas, according to court records.
The defendant's brother, Louis Vargas, spoke with The Times on Thursday morning ahead of his brother's sentencing hearing.
Louis Vargas, of Hammond, said despite his brother's criminal mistakes, Alexander Vargas was a "pillar of the family who totally kept street and family life separate."
Louis Vargas, 30, said his brother was blinded to reality by the gang life. It's a lifestyle that has left multiple scars on the Vargas family, Louis Vargas said.
On the verge of losing his brother Alexander to a federal prison sentence Thursday, Louis Vargas also recalled the October 2006 slaying of another brother, Jose Vargas.
Louis Vargas said Jose wasn't a gang member but was caught in a gang shooting crossfire near the intersection of 104th and Avenue L in Chicago. Jose Vargas' slaying remains unsolved, he said.
Despite Alexander Vargas' serious crimes, the judge thanked the defendant Thursday for admitting guilt and testifying against other gang members — something that will put a target on the defendant's back for the rest of his life.
"You've been a man about it," Lozano said. "I applaud you for that."