Gang leader pleads guilty in drug case

Latee Smith, of Rockville Centre, is alleged to Latee Smith, of Rockville Centre, is alleged to be a member of the Bloods street gang. (Nov. 15, 2012) Photo Credit: Handout

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A leader of the Bloods street gang, who authorities said helped mastermind a Rockville Centre-based cocaine and crack distribution ring, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Central Islip to dealing cocaine.

Latee Smith, 31, was one of 14 people arrested in June 2011 as a result of a joint FBI, Rockville Centre and Nassau County police investigation into drug dealing at the Old Mill Court apartment complex in the village. The 14 included members of the Bloods, associates and other people involved in the drug trade, officials said.

Many of the others involved have previously pleaded guilty in the case and are awaiting sentencing, officials said.

While Smith lived in Hempstead, many of those arrested lived in Rockville Centre, officials said. In pleading guilty, Smith briefly admitted to his role in the drug dealing, and mainly answered in a crisp "Yes, sir," to other questions asked by federal magistrate William Wall.

At the time of the arrests, Rockville Centre police Commissioner Charles Gennario said, "We faced a major law enforcement challenge in our community, which required the assistance of federal law enforcement."

Gennario Thursday praised the impact of the joint investigation. The ring "victimized an entire housing development in Rockville Centre," Eastern District U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said on the day of the arrests, in explaining the federal role in the case. "We are committed to ensuring that the residents of our public housing, and all the residents of our district, are free from the scourge of narcotics trafficking."

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About 400 people live in the nine buildings of the Old Mill complex. The complex was built in 1967 and gutted and rebuilt between 2007 and 2009.

During the investigation, between February and June 2010, wiretaps on the phones of Smith and his associates recorded "over 6,500 pertinent calls" involving the discussion of drug dealing, according to court papers. Smith and his associates used code in their drug talks, with "crusty crabs," meaning cocaine base and "white lady," meaning cocaine, the papers said.

Smith faces up to life in prison. He is likely to get a sentence of between 19 to 24 years under a plea agreement. His lawyer, Raymond Colon, declined to comment, as did Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tom Sullivan and Grace Cucchissi.

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