SOUTH BEND, Ind. — REAL News Michiana has uncovered a disturbing relationship between former South Bend Mayor, Pete Buttigieg (current US Secretary of Transportation), and a high ranking member of the violent Latin Kings street gang, Eli Cantu. While it appears to two at least knew each other since 2017, national news reports and social media posts appear to show a partnership to “reform” policing started in 2019.
The relationship between the former mayor and gang member appears to have started to blossom after a South Bend police officer shot and killed Eric Logan on June 16th, 2019. Logan charged at the officer with a knife and the shooting was ruled to be justified. Despite the evidence showing a justified shooting, anti-police activists, criminals and known gang members used the incident to push their agenda and pull in national media. Buttigieg, who was running for president at the time, left the campaign trail and came back to South Bend where he joined in on marches and rallies, some of which were organized by Cantu.
In the picture below, from a South Bend Tribune article about one of the rallies, you can see Cantu leading a crowd in a circle with several people — including Buttigieg. Several other known criminals are also in attendance, including convicted domestic batterer/activist Wayne Hubbard (read more about his history here) and career felon/activist Vernado Malone (read more about his criminal history here). Cantu organized the event.
In an article by CBS News highlighting the event and the shooting, Buttigieg campaign staffers said the former mayor spent 3 days in meetings with “community leaders, religious leaders, activists and elected officials” after the Eric Logan shooting. The story later quotes Cantu who said he had personally met with Buttigieg and “potential meetings are being planned with the mayor to help remedy the situation.”
During that time, RNM has learned SBPD’s Strategic Focus Unit (formerly known as Street Crimes) was essentially put on the bench. Several officers, who wished not to be named due to fear of retaliation, say the special unit was not allowed to pursue the mission of the unit for months. While no officers have been able to confirm with RNM that Buttigieg himself ordered the police to stand-down, as mayor, Buttigieg was the executive of the police department. And, Buttigieg was actively meeting with convicted criminals and active gang members to discuss policing issues. The SFU, among other things, targets gangs and violent criminals.
Since then, violent crime and homicides have skyrocketed. In 2018, there were a total of 78 shootings where people were injured in the city of South Bend. There were 99 in 2019. The number jumped to 133 in 2020. And, the number of fatal shootings went from 9 in 2018 to 23 in 2020.
Cantu is an open member of the Latin Kings
“I’m a very proud member of the Latin King and Queen Nation.” Cantu told RNM’s Clifton French, in an interview in 2019.
Cantu has not been shy about his gang affiliation. He has openly admitted to his gang membership to reporters. He also bragged about his affiliation on social media. In the Facebook post below, he describes the exact date and time he joined the gang as November 14th, 2006, at 8:30pm
The Latin Kings is a Chicago based gang that’s located in nearly 40 states and 10 countries.
“A lot of the anti-law enforcement sentiment that’s going on across the country right now, many of these groups are jumping on board with those movements.” Jason Wilke, a retired police officer and Latin King expert, said. (You can read more about Cantu’s involvement with the South Bend BLM organization here).
Wilke, who travels the country teaching law enforcement about the Latin Kings and other gangs, spoke to Clifton French about the Latin Kings in general and not specifically about Cantu.
“It’s hyper structured. They’re probably one of the most structured organizations that we have here in the United States.” Wilke said. “Any type of criminal enterprise that you can think of, they’re going to be involved in. Fraud is a big one especially for the younger kids who have a solid knowledge of the internet. Gambling, prostitution, human trafficking; any type of criminal enterprise that’s going to turn a dollar, they’re going to be involved in it.”
Wilke says each city with a Latin King chapter has its own structure with its own leadership that members typically answer to. But, there is one special rank known as a “Nation Man” that answers directly to top leadership in Chicago.
“Their objective is to get into a community and infiltrate some sort of law enforcement, community group, corrections, whatever it may be. It’s what that person’s sole goal is to do.” Wilke explained.
“Are you a Nation man?” Clifton French asked Cantu.
“Yes, I am a Nation Man.” He responded.
RNM does not know when Buttigieg learned of Cantu’s gang affiliation. However, law enforcement officials have known about his membership with the Latin Kings for the better part of a decade. Once again, as mayor, Buttigieg was the executive of the South Bend Police Department.
Clifton French spoke to Buttigieg’s staff regarding Cantu’s gang affiliation only weeks after Buttigieg was seen and pictured with Cantu in 2019. At that time, his staff didn’t seem surprised by the information being passed along.
RNM reached out to the U.S. Department of Transportation press team regarding Buttigieg’s ties with Cantu and the Latin Kings, as of publication RNM has not received a response.