Federal prosecutors have brought new murder charges in an ongoing crackdown against members of the Latin Kings gang in Newburgh. Eighteen members had been charged last May in an investigation dubbed "Operation Black Crown" for peddling cocaine, crack, heroin and marijuana. In an updated indictment unsealed Thursday, prosecutors have added murder, attempted murder, assault, racketeering and gun charges against a total of 31 people.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said one of the alleged murder victims was a 15-year-old boy who was hit by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting in May 2008.
"Nothing we do in this office is more important than our efforts to ensure that mothers do not have to live in daily terror that one of their boys will be the next gang casualty, cut down either by an errant or intended bullet," said Bharara. "Children should be playing, not dying, in the streets."
Prosecutors said that last March another stray bullet killed 20-year-old Latin Kings' member Jerome Scarlettt, nicknamed "Rude Boy." Twenty-four hours later, the gang allegedly gunned down member John Maldonado (aka "Tarzan").
The indictment lists gang nicknames such as "King Murder," "King Tragedy" and "King Bullethead." It says the Newburgh Latin Kings are governed by a council of five officers, or "crowns," that used a system of beatings, stabbings and shootings to defend their drug territory and discipline members.
Newburgh's East End neighborhood has been long ravaged by gang violence, and the city has had one of the highest per capita violent crime rates in the state for years.
But Newburgh police chief Michael Ferrara said he's noticed a drop in violent crime since the arrest of 18 members of the Latin Kings members and 60 members of the Bloods after the first phase of the "Operation Black Crown" last May.
According to the U.S. Attorney's office, the updated indictment represents the first time prosecutors have brought federal racketeering charges against any gang in Newburgh.
"The elimination of the Latin Kings will not alone bring around renewal and rebirth in Newburgh, but until we fully restore the rule of law, other positive change cannot take permanent root," said Bharara. "The goal is not simply justice, but sustainable justice."
All defendants are facing a maximum of life in prison for the 42 separate counts in the new indictment. One defendant, Carlos Ortiz ("King Tone") remains at large.