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Metro East Law Enforcement Targets Armed Robbers

Maria Altman
St. Louis Public Radio

Federal, state and local law enforcement in the Metro East are zeroing in on armed robberies with a coalition similar to the Major Case Squad.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois Stephen Wigginton is spearheading the effort to go after a spate of what he called "brazen and violent" armed robberies this summer.

Wigginton said prosecutors will go after offenders with federal charges that often carry longer sentences.

He addressed would-be criminals directly at a press conference, saying those convicted will serve in federal penitentiaries in far-flung states.

"You won’t be jailed with your classmates from ninth grade or your neighborhood gang members," Wigginton said. "You will be meeting all new friends in foreign places throughout the country."

Dubbed the Metro East Armed Robbery Initiative, it will include the U.S. Attorney’s office, FBI, ATF, Illinois State Police, the state’s attorneys from St. Clair and Madison Counties, as well as county sheriffs and local police.

Wigginton said his office will be relying on the Hobbs Act, which allows federal charges against anyone who affects or interferes with interstate commerce. He said a guns statute also would add five to 10 years for first time offenders.

St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelley said prosecutors would be reviewing armed robberies on a case-by-case basis to determine whether federal or state charges would be best.

"There are scenarios in which we actually do get more time," Kelly said.

Officials pointed to several recent armed robberies where gunmen held up employees and customers, including at Chili’s in Fairview Heights and a Circle K in Belleville last month.

"I have no problem recommending lengthy sentences for those people," Wigginton said. "These are violent people."

Follow Maria Altman on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.