The Chicago Syndicate: Lucchese Crime Family Partners with The Bloods Street Gang

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Lucchese Crime Family Partners with The Bloods Street Gang

State authorities on Tuesday broke up what Attorney General Anne Milgram said was an “alarming alliance” between the Luchese crime family and the Bloods street gang to supply drugs and cellphones to gang members inside a New Jersey prison. Paul Fredrick MenStyle

Two members of the Luchese family connected to the prison scheme, Ms. Milgram said, were also involved in a sports gambling ring. The gambling operation took in $2.2 billion in bets over 15 months, mainly through the Internet, law enforcement officials say, and relied on violence and extortion to collect debts.

All told, the authorities charged 32 people, 27 from New Jersey and 5 from New York, in connection with the prison and gambling operations, on charges ranging from racketeering and money laundering to conspiracy to distribute heroin and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault.

Among those arrested were three high-ranking members of the Luchese organization and a New Jersey prison guard who is accused of acting as the conduit for the drugs and cellphones.

“With today’s arrests and charges, we have disrupted the highest-echelon organized crime family in both New York and New Jersey,” Ms. Milgram said at a news conference.

During the yearlong investigation, Ms. Milgram worked with her former boss, Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, and other law enforcement agencies.

New York’s five organized crime families have long built alliances with nontraditional organized crime groups in the city, including Russians, Cubans and Asians. Nationwide, organized crime groups are also no stranger to running criminal operations inside prisons. But in New Jersey, which has seen a rapid growth in gang activity in the cities and the suburbs, law enforcement officials said, the prison scheme provided the first evidence of an organized crime family from New York working with the Bloods street gang, one of the state’s largest. Moreover, Ms. Milgram said, the potential for more cooperation was great, given their shared interests in “violence, illegal drugs and quick profits.”

“What we have here in this case is really the realization of what we feared: connecting old-school organized crime, the Mafia, with new-school organized crime, gangs,” Ms. Milgram said. “We’ve heard anecdotes about overlap, but this is the first time we’ve had a direct link between the two organizations.”

As part of what they called Operation Heat, investigators executed search warrants at 10 locations in New Jersey and 2 in New York, Ms. Milgram said. They seized two shotguns, one handgun, one hand grenade, 2,000 OxyContin-grade pills and $200,000 in cash. State officials also obtained court orders to take possession of 7 homes and 13 luxury cars.

Ms. Milgram, together with Gregory A. Paw, director of the state’s Division of Criminal Justice, made the announcement at the West Orange Armory, where the New Jersey suspects were processed on Tuesday. The suspects’ first court appearances were expected in a Morris County courtroom on Wednesday.

According to law enforcement officials, the prison scheme revolved around a prisoner, Edwin B. Spears, 33, who has served time for a variety of offenses since 2002.

Officials said that Mr. Spears, who is reputed to be a “five-star general” in the Nine Trey Gangsters faction of the Bloods, cooperated with two Luchese members — Joseph M. Perna and Michael A. Cetta — to smuggle heroin, cocaine, marijuana and prepaid cellphones into East Jersey State Prison in Woodbridge.

They enlisted the help of Michael T. Bruinton, a senior prison guard, by offering him $500 each time he allowed smuggled goods to pass through, Ms. Milgram said. Mr. Bruinton has worked in corrections since 1987, always at the same prison, said Danielle Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.

Mr. Perna and Mr. Cetta are suspected of having given money to Mr. Spears’s brother, Dwayne E. Spears, to buy drugs and phones. Dwayne Spears then passed the goods to Mr. Bruinton, officials said, and they were given to inmates who had placed orders with Edwin Spears.

As of Tuesday night, Mr. Bruinton was one of five suspects still at large. “He wasn’t home or at work,” said Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for Ms. Milgram. Attempts to reach him for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The gambling operation was more conventional. Law enforcement officials said it involved agents who brought in bets from hundreds or even thousands of gamblers who bet on, among other things, basketball, football, greyhound races and the lottery.

The gambling operation used what officials called a wire room in Costa Rica, where bets were taken over the Internet or a toll-free phone line, and tabulated.
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The gambling operators in the metropolitan area made tribute payments to two of the Luchese family’s top bosses in New York, Joseph DiNapoli, of Scarsdale, and Matthew Madonna, of Selden, both 72, according to Ms. Milgram. Sometimes, debtors were forced to take loans at annual interest rates exceeding 200 percent. Some debtors were even forced to refinance their homes.

The New Jersey group was said to have been led by Ralph V. Perna, of East Hanover, who officials said was named top capo for the New Jersey division of the Luchese family this year. Three of his sons, including Joseph, and his daughter-in-law, were also charged in the investigation.

It is not clear whether the Bloods were involved with the gambling operation. But officials said the accusation that they joined forces with the Mafia was surprising but not unexpected.

According to Marc Agnifilo, the former head of the gang unit in the United States attorney’s office in New Jersey, the cultural differences between the two groups would appear to be too great to allow for a long-term alliance.

Mafia crews try to run their enterprises quietly, Mr. Agnifilo said, while street gangs like the Bloods and Crips are prone to ostentatious shows of raw power. “No self-respecting mobster would want anything to do with the Bloods or Crips because those gangs are the antithesis of the Mafia,” he said. “The mob is concerned with making money over the long haul, trying to appear respectable. But the Bloods are concerned with projecting their status, so they’re all, ‘I’m going to shoot up the block and wear a red bandanna.’”

Yet Mr. Agnifilo said that when he had prosecuted both organized crime and street gang cases between 1998 and 2003, he frequently heard members of the Bloods speak of Mafia members and customs with admiration. “The Blood guys love mobsters because they’re the old-school gangsters,” he said. “A lot of my Mafia informants in prison would complain that they couldn’t get away from the Bloods’ always following them and fawning over them.”

Thanks to David W. Chen and David Kocienwski

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