63 Gang Members Indicted in Massive East Harlem Overhaul

East Harlem: The New Iraq.

At least that’s what one East Harlem gang member said, according to a Facebook post the NYPD and District Attorney’s office dug up during a three-and-a-half year investigation into the neighborhood’s deadly gang violence.

“I’m 2 Glocks strapped, rolling down 112th Madison, 116th this is the new Iraq,” read a status update on Hasim Thioubo’s Facebook page.  Thioubo was part of the DA’s East Harlem house cleaning where 63 members from three rival gangs were indicted in April.

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63 members from three rival East Harlem gangs were indicted for conspiracy to murder, weapons trafficking, and other violent offenses. (Photo: District Attorney)

The gangs, Air It Out, or AIO, True Money Gang, or TMG, and Whoadey – indicted on April 4 -operated out of their respective project buildings, all of which are within a block of each other.  Air It Out was based out of the Taft Houses, TMG at the Johnson Houses, and Whoadey at the Lehman Houses.

After a month of arraignments and subsequent court appearances from the latest Harlem indictments, none of the defendants have pleaded guilty to any of their charges.  (Many of the defendants named in the indictment wont appear in court until July.)

The three-year investigation documented a wake of bloodshed, which left three teens dead, innocent bystanders shot and terrorized residents who were “forced to live among this senseless violence,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.

At least six murders and 46 non-fatal shootings occurred in the roughly .2-square mile area where the three gangs operate.

The neighborhood war began as so many others do: A murder and its revenge.

In 2009, a TMG member, 19-year-old John Williams, was shot in the head, a murder that remains unsolved.  Members of TMG – also known as the “True Money Bosses” – believed AIO was responsible for the murder and brokered a deal with another local gang, Whoadey, to retaliate and protect their territory.

“Defendants in all three gangs attempted to kill one another; bought, sold, and possessed firearms and ammunition,” Vance said.

The indictments “chronicle a bloody gang war that claimed the lives of at least three teenagers, led to the shooting of dozens of individuals, and put bounties on people’s heads,” Vance said.

It wasn’t just rival gangs people had to worry about either.  There are at least two friendly-fire incidents where a member of one gang “accidentally” shot a fellow member.

18 East Harlem drug dealers were indicted after selling marijuana and crack-cocaine packaged in "Sour Power" bags to undercover police officers. (Photo: District Attorney)

18 East Harlem drug dealers were indicted after selling marijuana and crack-cocaine packaged in “Sour Power” bags to undercover police officers. (Photo: District Attorney)

Less than three weeks before the indictments, another 18 members of an East Harlem drug crew were arrested for selling marijuana and crack-cocaine packaged in “Sour Power” bags.  The arrests were the culmination of a joint-investigation between the DA’s Crime Strategies Unit and the NYPD’s Manhattan North Narcotics Bureau.

Eight days after the 63 indictments were filed, 41 members from two Lower East Side drug rings were indicted for trafficking crack and powder cocaine.  That brought the DA’s scorecard to 122 indictments across six gangs in four weeks.

Four people in the Lower East Side bust were charged as “drug kingpins,” or “operating as a major trafficker,” which is a class A-1 felony and carries a potential life sentence.  All of the “kingpins” were under 25-years-old, the youngest, Anthony Alvarez of the “Blocc Boyz,” being only 20.

Drug dealers from the two gangs, “Cash is King” and “Stack” joined together to form an umbrella outfit called “Blocc Boyz” and allegedly operated a drug delivery operation using car services.

“Unbelievably, they made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from this service at the same time they were living in city-subsidized housing as NYCHA residents,” Vance said in a press release.  “Hardworking families should not have to live side-by-side with drug dealers poisoning their communities.”

The Lower East Side indictment involves two project buildings – the Campos and Baruch Houses – that are included in the city’s new initiative to lease off public housing land to private developers to boost revenue.  Police arrested the dealers less than a month after details about the authority’s plan was announced.

In all three investigations – both Harlem cases and the Lower East Side drug ring – the NYPD used social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter as effectively as if they were wiretaps.  Court documents from the April 4 case allege that its members used Facebook and Twitter to organize murders, retaliation against Whoadey and TMG, and orchestrate weapons trafficking.

The indictment referred to messages like the one Alexander Carno, who was shot in 2009, sent to a fellow AIO member in 2011, which read:  “God forgives I dont… Somebody gotta die.”

Officials documented a growing impatience to avenge the attack on Carno and the murder of fellow AIO member Juan Otero.

In Sept., 2011, Carno offered $300 via Facebook to Davon Powell, an AIO member, “if you clap a Trill [TMG] or Whoadey before October.”  In attempt to conceal the bounty he added, “Erase dese messagesnow.”

The next month Powell sent to a rival Whoadey member a Facebook message threatening, “Imma shoot u n ur f—— face.”

“Social media remains a double-edged sword,” said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.  “It is used by crew members to brag about past crimes, taunt rivals, and incite violence. On the other hand, we use social media to document past crimes and intercept new ones being talked about openly by crew members on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.”

While some messages were sent to people’s private inboxes, others were overtly declared online.  One gang member, Joseph Solivan, repeatedly threatened a rival TMG member Tremaine Cosby, tweeting “RIP Tremaine Cosby,” and a month later tweeting, “We gunno kill Tramaine Cosby fat ass.”

Tremaine Cosby, 20, is charged with shooting 20-year-old Marc Alvarez, (the lead defendant in the AIO indictment), Justin Vargas, 19, and Joshua Crider, 20 – all AIO members.

The DA’s office said hundreds of Facebook and Twitter messages, as well as recorded phone calls made from the Riker’s Island Correctional Facility, were used to plan the deaths of rival gang members.

Despite five shots-fired incidents and four non-fatal shootings that occurred in front of the Johnson Houses, police and the DA said they hope the building will be a beacon of safety in the future.

The Johnson Houses Community Center, between 112th and 115th Street along Lexington Avenue, hosts community activities like after school and Friday night Basketball.  The DA’s office and the NYPD said they plan to expand these programs to help reduce crime and build community relations.

Community activities have the ability to change a neighborhood in a way that police presence cannot.

“Criminals are persistent characters,” said Frank Zimring, author of “The City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control.”

“If you send the cops on Tuesday, the robbers will wait ‘til Wednesday,” he said.

But, Zimring added, “get them to play basketball on Friday and they don’t defer to Saturday.  Every made basket is a reduction of crime in New York City.”

“When you see a group of young people inside playing, you know they are protected from anything that’s happing on the street,” said Matthew Washington, president of East Harlem’s Community Board 11.

A life-long Harlem resident, Washington lauded the DA and NYPD’s work but said the community board has long been asking to revive the “notion of the beat cop and community policing.”

Washington called the current NYPD presence a ”curtain of law enforcement,” because residents don’t have the opportunity to know the people who are policing them.

“They come in and handle the situation and they’re gone,” Washington said.

The reduced police force and increased “hot spot” policing means that locally known officers are scarce.  As a result the community feels disconnected from the force that’s tasked with their protection.

Daryl Lucas, a 17-year NYPD veteran and community affairs officer for the 25th precinct said the department is taking steps towards greater neighborhood involvement and the beat-cop concept. “The new chief, that’s what he’s pushing.”

Focus on the after school and weekend programs, as well as the Police Athletic Leagues are tried-and-true methods “to get the youth involved, get them off the street” and reduce crime, Lucas said.

“How can we reach out to those kids?” Lucas said of the youths spending their time on the street corners.  “We’re still trying to figure that out.”

Before the East Harlem overhaul, Lucas said, there were shootings just about every weekend.  Since the March and April arrests, he said there hasn’t been a single shooting in the neighborhood.

“Every year it gets better.  Everyday it gets better.”

Washington said he hasn’t noticed a substantial difference in crime, but stressed the importance of a collaborative effort between the community, NYPD, and the DA’s office to address drug and gang activity.

“It’s a tough task,” he said.

“I don’t know if it’s possible.”

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