With unwavering conviction

Assistant United States attorneys John D. Mitchell (JD ’04) and Jimmy L. Arce (JD ’12) team up to prosecute the violent Wicked Town gang

When the Wicked Town Trial ended on November 15, 2022, resulting in convictions of two violent defendants and guilty pleas from 11 more, lead prosecutor John D. Mitchell (JD ’04) finally exhaled.

“Because of the scale and scope of the violence involved, it’s safe to say this is the most important case I’ll ever work on,” says Mitchell, an assistant United States attorney (AUSA) for the Northern District of Illinois.

The two-month trial—co-prosecuted with Jimmy L. Arce (JD ’12) as second chair—convicted leaders of Wicked Town, a faction of the Traveling Vice Lords gang, which operated primarily in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood and was responsible for at least 19 murders, 19 attempted murders, several armed robberies, and assaults.

“In most of our cases, there are victims who care about the outcome, and it’s important to them and to us that we do a good job,” says Mitchell. “But they’re not in the newspaper every week. There were a lot of eyeballs on this case, a lot of moms who lost their sons to the violence, and I had an enormous amount of relief when the jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts.”

The trial capped a sprawling, multiyear investigation by several federal agencies that resulted in the convictions of Donald Lee and Torance Benson on racketeering conspiracy and firearm charges, as well as drug charges for Lee. Both may receive life sentences. Eleven other defendants who pleaded guilty before trial—with several becoming cooperating witnesses—will receive sentences of 20–35 years to life.

Separate routes to a common goal

Arce and Mitchell took different paths to the Northern Illinois United States Attorney’s Office (USAO). As a child watching TV courtroom dramas, Arce decided he wanted to be a trial attorney—a goal that was reinforced when he witnessed a mock trial during his School of Law first-year orientation. He became a Loyola Corboy Fellow, which provided “valuable training in thinking on my feet and formulating a story that’s easy for a jury to grasp,” he says. After a stint at a law firm and a federal clerkship, Arce secured his “dream job” at the USAO in 2016, spending several years in the Civil Division. He’s now in the Criminal Division focusing on violent crimes—and Wicked Town was the first criminal case he tried as an AUSA.

Mitchell became interested in securities litigation during a Loyola law class at the height of the Enron scandal. He held an appellate clerkship and worked for a law firm, then prosecuted securities fraud cases for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement. The U.S. Department of Justice often has criminal cases running parallel to SEC civil cases, Mitchell says. After working alongside the DOJ on cases including Ponzi schemes defrauding elderly people, Mitchell decided to make a shift to criminal prosecutions. He joined the USAO in 2015 and now works in the securities and commodities fraud section, but he’s kept cases from his days in the gangs and narcotics section.

“I might have insider trading in the morning and gang murders in the afternoon,” Mitchell says. “Only working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office can you have that kind of cool mix on your docket.”

Each AUSA’s caseload can go as high as 75 cases, so days in the office are a busy mix of court hearings; conferrals about ongoing investigations with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and appearances before grand juries to present evidence. “If we have a brief to write, that usually happens at night or on the weekend, because during the day we’re getting phone calls and emails and pulled in every direction,” Arce says.

John D. Mitchell and Jimmy L. Arce discuss their winning chemistry


Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs) John D. Mitchell (JD ’04) and Jimmy L. Arce (JD ’12) had not met until they were assigned to try the Wicked Town case together—and discovered they were both Loyola alumni when Mitchell spotted Arce’s diploma on the office wall.


“It was great to be paired up with a fellow Loyola grad who’s now a friend for life,” says Mitchell, who praises Arce’s Corboy training and calls his partner in prosecution “smart, kind, and thoughtful, with an incredible energy.”


Says Arce, “Loyola teaches you to meet people where they are. Through this case I saw a real connection between John and the victims and their families, and I think that’s an important part of his Loyola background. John was a wonderful leader and guide, a dynamite lawyer who built the case in an incredible way. I hope one day I’m half as good an AUSA.”

The challenges of trying a big case

Several times a year, AUSAs prepare to try cases—an all-encompassing project that requires temporarily handing off their other cases to colleagues. To get ready for the Wicked Town trial, which stretched over eight weeks, Mitchell and Arce, along with their co-counsel Meghan Morrissey and Beth Palmer, interviewed and prepared more than 100 witnesses, participated in jury selection, wrote the opening statement given by Arce and the rebuttal closing presented by Mitchell, and readied their examination and cross-examination.

“It was about a six-month period where there was 100 percent focus on the trial, all day, every day,” says Mitchell who, like Arce, has small children.

During high-intensity trials like this one, AUSAs spend far less time at home than they’d like, and their families—particularly their spouses—feel the strain. “My wife will probably kill me for saying this, but this trial may have required more sacrifice on her part than on mine,” says Arce, who is married to another Loyola alum, Lynette Arce (née Barnett) (JD ’13).

Jimmy Arce, who says he had to slowly reacclimate himself to normal life after months of nonstop work on the Wicked Town trial ended, says, “I felt grateful for the witnesses and the victims who also made sacrifices to get these convictions, and hopeful that they felt some small measure of justice.”

Though he notes that all his cases are significant and impactful for different reasons, Mitchell says a 2019 insider trading conspiracy trial—the first in Chicago in more than 15 years—“was really important to me because we were able to hold accountable all of the nine white-collar defendants, who were motivated to commit crime exclusively by greed rather than by poverty or lack of opportunity.” Mitchell says he hopes that the successful prosecution has “deterred others who may consider using nonpublic information to cheat the system through insider trading.”

“This is the most important case I’ll ever work on.”

Arce, who spent more than four years in the USAO’s Civil Division before moving to the Criminal Division in 2021, has defended federal governmental institutions including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Postal Service, and various law enforcement agencies, as well as engaged in affirmative civil rights investigations.

While in the Civil Division, Arce worked on the Chicago Police Department Pattern and Practice Investigation that resulted in a report published by his office and the Department of Justice. The report served as a road map for a 2019 consent decree between the City of Chicago and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office that, ordered by a federal court, mandates broad reform of the Chicago Police Department—including changes in police training and policies—while providing officers the support they need to implement safe and constitutional policing practices.

“The best job they’ve ever had”

As exhausting as the work can be, the job of an AUSA yields big rewards in the sense of meaningful accomplishment it confers.

The USAO “really is a unique place,” Mitchell says. “A big part of why I went to Loyola was the emphasis on public service. Here, I work with people who could be doing other things and making more money doing it—but they enjoy the work of advocating for victims of crimes. That’s what keeps me here.”

“The life and the work are very mission-driven,” Arce adds. “One thing I don’t have to worry about is whether I’m doing the right thing. We’re very deliberate in our approach, and that doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes, but having that mission is a lodestar that maybe a lot of my private practice colleagues don’t have. Almost everyone who leaves the office says the best job they’ve ever had is here.” –Gail Mansfield (July 2023)

From Loyola Law magazine 2023

*Photos of Hubbard Park by E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TCA.


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