Nassau authorities Thursday said they’ve struck a “major blow” against a Hempstead street gang known as Salvadorians With Pride with the arrests of a dozen members whose spree of recent violence allegedly included shootings, a stabbing and a hammer attack aimed at rivals.
Several of the defendants named in an indictment against the gang, also known as SWP, face first-degree conspiracy charges that carry a potential penalty of up to life in prison, according to prosecutors.
“This was a major dismantling of a gang in Hempstead so we’re hoping that this is the end of SWP, but time will tell,” Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in an interview Thursday.
The arrests come amid renewed community and law enforcement concerns about Long Island gang violence. In the fall, the Nassau police department started a task force to go after the county’s estimated 25 gangs.
One of the alleged “original gangsters” or “OGs,” arrested Thursday pleaded not guilty in a Mineola court as prosecutors described what they characterized as the group’s reign of terror over a six-month period that led to the 49-count indictment.
Wilmer Sandoval, 23, one of the gang’s “OGs” who authorities said uses the street name “Scrappy,” faces charges that include attempted murder, first-degree conspiracy and multiple counts of assault, attempted assault and weapon offenses.
“He is one of the leaders of this organization,” prosecutor Edward Friedenthal, chief of the district attorney’s Special Operations, Narcotics and Gangs Bureau, said at Sandoval’s arraignment.
Defense attorney Douglas Appel of Brooklyn said after court that Sandoval already was fighting robbery and assault charges from May.
“This indictment adds some additional charges to that,” he said, declining further comment.
Prosecutors said that from May to November, members of Salvadorians With Pride committed violent acts against rival gangs, Vatos Locos, MS-13 and Latin Pride, along with others suspected of having ties to those groups.
The district attorney’s office has alleged that when Sandoval got out of jail in April, he and two other alleged “OGs” started “stirring things up within the membership” of their gang. Prosecutors said that turned what had been a period of the organization’s “peaceful coexistence” with some other street gangs into warfare.
“It’s not only gang members that suffer. It could be innocent people who are just trying to live their life in our county and can be affected by the tremendous violence of these gangs,” Singas said Thursday. “ . . . The message is that we will dismantle the gangs in this county.”
The district attorney’s office identified another one of the SWP gang’s three indicted leaders as Jimmy Bonilla, 27, who they said uses the street name of “Gem Starr.” Records show Bonilla pleaded not guilty during an arraignment Wednesday to charges including first-degree conspiracy, gang assault, robbery and attempted murder.
His attorney couldn’t be reached Thursday. Investigators said that during the probe they found a series of publicly posted online rap videos by “Gem Starr,” including one with the lyric, “If you mess with SWP, we’re going to smoke you.”
One of the other alleged gang members, identified in court and in records as Hosman Mejia, 24, or “Chino,” repeatedly refused to come to court from Nassau’s jail this week and hasn’t been arraigned yet. His public defender declined to comment Thursday.
Authorities said one suspect remains at large. Other defendants are identified in court records as: Ariel Mejia, Aaron Villela, Edwin Gomez, Dennis Romero, Steven Parada, Donery Portillo, Kevin Cruz, Luis Maldonado and Oscar Maldonado. All of them also entered not guilty pleas during arraignments this week.
Records show many of the defendants also use street names, which include Droopy, Dice, Steel, Poochie, Churro, Roach, Bams and Rocky. Some also already had criminal charges pending against them before conspiracy charges were added as part of what became the new indictment, according to defense attorneys involved in the case.
Prosecutors said most of the defendants are from Hempstead, but two live in Westbury and one resides in Uniondale. Multiple defendants are teenagers who currently are enrolled as high school students, according to records and defense attorneys for some of the accused.
Nassau’s acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said in a statement Thursday that the indictment marked “the culmination of an extensive investigation” by police and prosecutors, and that “bringing these dangerous defendants to justice was of the utmost importance.”