In the pre-dawn chill of upstate New York, nearly 600 local, state, and federal law enforcement officers assembled at the armory to prepare for one of the area's largest gang takedowns in recent memory.
Indictments were unsealed against 78 members of two violent street gangs—the Bloods and the Latin Kings—and many of the unsuspecting gang members were about to wake up to SWAT teams, handcuffs, and a variety of federal drug charges.
“There are a number of neighborhood gangs in Newburgh, but these two national gangs are responsible for much of the drugs and crime in the city,” said Special Agent Jim Gagliano, who headed a 16-month, FBI-led Safe Streets Task Force investigation that culminated in this morning’s raids.
“Today’s arrests will severely disrupt and dismantle both organizations in Newburgh,” Gagliano said. “We are taking most of the local leaders of the Bloods and the Latin Kings off the streets. Some of them will likely be put away for so long they will never return to the city.”
Newburgh is located about 70 miles north of Manhattan. For a relatively small city of 29,000 people, it has an unusually large crime problem. When Gagliano arrived there two years ago, Newburgh led the state in per capita homicides, and everyone agreed that drug-related gang violence was at the root of the problem.
The Bureau established the Hudson Valley Safe Streets Task Force in April 2009—which now consists of about 20 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies—and began dual investigations on the two gangs, dubbed Operation Blood Drive and Operation Black Crown. The plan was for the task force’s cooperating witnesses and undercover officers to make small street-level drug buys—mostly crack cocaine—from gang members over a period of time.
In all, the task force made nearly 100 drug buys, totaling more than five kilos of crack cocaine. “The majority of these buys were done while we recorded video and audio,” Gagliano said. “Not only did we get the subject’s voice on tape, we also see the exchange.”
He added, “In a city as small as Newburgh and as violent—there have already been four homicides this year, all directly related to gang violence—these arrests will have a substantial effect on the crime rate in the city.”
After an early-morning briefing, agents and officers fanned out over the city in teams. Those arrested were brought back to the armory for processing and booking. Of the 60 members of the Bloods and 18 members of the Latin Kings who were indicted—some were already in jail on other charges—approximately 61 were in custody by early this afternoon. The sweep also netted four guns and a large amount of cash. The search for those still at large is ongoing.
George Venizelos, acting assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York Field Office, had nothing but praise for today’s operation and the Safe Streets Task Force. “I have never been involved with a task force that had this many different member agencies who worked so well together,” Venizelos said. “It’s been a terrific partnership, and the proof of our success can be seen in today’s arrests.”
Sunday, May 16, 2010
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