Former gang task force cops honored by Suffolk lawmaker

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Two Suffolk detectives who were abruptly taken off a federal task force after solving some of the region's most violent gang crimes were honored Tuesday by the county legislature.

Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) honored Det. William Maldonado and Det. John Oliva before the regular meeting for their work on the federal Long Island Gang Task Force. Trotta was the third member of the task force from Suffolk who was removed.

Trotta was flanked by more than a dozen federal and local law enforcement officials, including officers from the Nassau police and sheriff departments and members of the task force who attended to show support for the two Suffolk detectives.

Between April 2010 and August 2012, Maldonado and Oliva helped arrest 27 gang members linked to 12 homicides, more than 20 assaults and more than a dozen robberies.

Trotta said the transfers in August 2012 made no sense. At the time, Chief of Department James Burke said the move was made "as a result of our intelligence-led policing model."

"I can tell you with 25 years of experience and a lot of education that is not intelligence-led policing," Trotta said at the meeting. "That's stupidity."

Police Commissioner Edward Webber and Burke did not attend the meeting. A call seeking comment through a spokesman was returned with an emailed statement: "The two detectives that are currently assigned to the FBI Long Island Gang Task Force are both highly motivated, dedicated, decorated, experienced police officers. They are well suited to handle the highly sensitive gang investigations that the Task Force investigates."

Maldonado and Oliva have since been replaced by two rookie detectives, who, at the time of their appointments, were in still their probationary periods, Trotta said.

Law enforcement sources said the new detectives "have not made any cases" in Suffolk and are assisting federal authorities with cases in other jurisdictions.

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Further, the new detectives are not working on any cases involving one of Long Island's most notorious gangs, MS-13, the sources said, adding they do not yet have top-secret federal clearance as the previous detectives did.

The Suffolk detectives, including Trotta, were abruptly taken off the task force in August 2012 when, the sources said, they were solving numerous violent MS-13 gang-related crimes.

Trotta's involvement in gang investigations was minimal because his expertise was in contraband.

About 10 months after the detectives were removed, Suffolk police announced they would place detectives back on the task force after three men were shot to death in separate shootings in Central Islip within days of each other around the 2013 Memorial Day holiday. Sources said two of those shootings are linked to MS-13 gang activity.

No arrests have been announced, but law enforcement sources said police have an MS-13 gang member in custody who is linked to the two shootings. He's being charged only with a felony count of criminal possession of a weapon at this time.

Federally run task forces have the advantage of prosecutions under unique federal criminal and penal codes that include racketeering, drug conspiracy and firearms violations.

When the detectives were first removed from the federal task force, Suffolk police said fighting gangs on the precinct level would be more effective, but Maldonado and Oliva have not handled one gang case, law enforcement sources said.

"It's beyond my comprehension that they would take a great Spanish-speaking detective who has insight into the religious and cultural nature of MS-13," Trotta said of Oliva. "He provided something most detectives could never do."

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