Federal prosecutors Friday charged members and associates of Long Island's largest street gang with a series of violent crimes including racketeering and murder - the second time in three weeks that authorities have carried out a large gang crackdown.
Seventeen members or associates of MS-13 were charged with the felonies, which also included conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, assault and witness-tampering, according to court papers.
Most of the charges grow out of warring on Long Island and Queens between the MS-13 and smaller street gangs, including the 18th Street gang, Salvadorans with Pride, the Bloods and the Latin Kings, according to court papers filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham.
The alleged crimes occurred in Hempstead, Freeport and Glen Cove, sources said.
Leaders in Hempstead and Freeport were encouraged by Friday's charges. Officials in Glen Cove could not immediately be reached for comment.
"It's a good thing because gangs are on the rise," said Reggie Lucas, who heads Hempstead's Coordinating Council of Civic Associations. "It helps deflate the idea that gangs are [the way] for young people."
Freeport village attorney Howard Colton said, "We applaud the effort. It's fantastic what the FBI is doing."
Tedd Levy, head of the civic group Pride in Freeport, tempered his praise with the idea that it probably would be even better to spend more money on social programs "to prevent kids from wanting to be in gangs."
The alleged murder involved the slaying of security guard Nestor Moreno, who used pepper spray on rowdy MS-13 leaders and ejected them from El Rancho Bar and Grill in Hempstead after a dispute over a bar bill, according to the papers filed by Durham.
After Moreno ejected the gang members, one of them allegedly yelled back at him, "Watch your back. It's not going to end like this," according to officials.
On March 6, Moreno was shot between the eyes when he opened El Rancho's door.
The charges were the result of a coordinated effort by the FBI, the Nassau County Police Department and the Nassau County district attorney's office.
They followed the arrests March 24 and 25 of 10 members of the Latin Kings in the Huntington Station area by the FBI and a 10-member anti-gang task force.
"The MS-13 street gang represents one of the greatest threats to the safety of our communities on Long Island, and this superseding indictment demonstrates the ongoing commitment by this office and the FBI's Long Island Gang Task Force to combat that threat," U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell said.
Since 2002, he said, 120 members of MS-13 have been convicted on federal charges in the Eastern District. Of those, more than a dozen have been sentenced or are awaiting sentencing on murder convictions, Campbell said.
The 17 people were arrested over the past several days, and some already had been charged based on complaints or indictments. Friday's action involved a superseding grand jury indictment of all 17.
Twelve of the defendants who were arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip all pleaded not guilty. Four of them alleged to be involved in Moreno's slaying could, if convicted, face the death penalty.
The gang known as MS-13
The MS-13 is a violent international street gang which is the largest one on Long Island with an estimated 1,000 members and associates in Nassau and Suffolk County, according to court records and sources. It is comprised primarily of immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. In Nassau County, members belong to chapters, or "cliques," located primarily in Hempstead, Freeport, Glen Cove, Roosevelt, New Cassel and Westbury. In Suffolk County, the gang's cliques are located primarily in Brentwood, Huntington, Copiague, Farmingdale and Islip. The 17 MS-13 members indicted yesterday came from a number of cliques in Nassau, Far Rockaway and Suffolk County, according to sources. - ROBERT E. KESSLER