Newburgh Latin Kings gang leader pleads guilty to murder

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Thirty down, five to go.

Federal prosecutors scored another victory Friday in an effort to wipe out Newburgh's Latin Kings when former gang leader Osman Nunez pleaded guilty to murder and weapons charges.

Nunez, 24, is the 30th member of the gang convicted in federal court; five more accused gang members will go on trial in January 2012. The charges they face range from murder and weapons, to racketeering and witness tampering, according to the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

The 35 accused Latin Kings members and associates were nabbed during a series of raids in Newburgh beginning in 2010. Those raids -- often involving hundreds of officers and agents knocking down doors throughout the small city before sunrise -- were led by the Hudson Valley Safe Streets taskforce, an FBI-led unit comprised of federal agents, state police and local detectives.

Nunez' biggest crime -- for which he faces a mandatory term of 30 years in prison -- was the murder of John Maldonado, a 20-year-old aspiring gang member who went by the name "Tarzan."

Nunez and his Latin Kings underlings believed Maldonado had betrayed them, so they lured him to a place where a gunman was waiting, prosecutors said. A statement from Bharara's office Friday said Nunez "was standing over Maldonado as he lay dying on the street" and tried to mislead police during their investigation.

Authorities said the trial and investigation gave them new insight into the gang's operations. The Latin Kings and their associates, they said, sold crack cocaine, heroin, cocaine and marijuana throughout Newburgh. The gang's members "protected their drug turf, drugs and drug money with guns and violence," shooting and stabbing rival dealers and members of rival gangs like the Bloods.

The Newburgh Latin Kings also killed some of their own members, prosecutors said, going after members "who were perceived to have fallen out of line."

Nunez pleaded guilty to one count each of weapons possession in relation to a drug trafficking crime, and weapons possession and discharge in relation to a crime of violence. He will be 54 years old when he becomes eligible for parole.

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