A Nassau judge dismissed conspiracy charges Friday against 21 alleged MS-13 street gang members nabbed in a June arrest sweep that had nearly three-dozen defendants facing life in prison.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Teresa Corrigan said in her ruling there was “not one iota of evidence” the defendants — aside from their alleged gang membership — agreed to take part in murder and felony assault during a four-year period.In at least one case, a defendant who was facing up to life in prison now faces no charges at all.
“The DA put forth a position that was unsupported by any facts,” said attorney Scott Gross of Garden City, whose client faced life behind bars but has been completely cleared.
Attorney Mitchell Barnett said his client also had faced up to life in prison on a first-degree conspiracy charge, but now faces a maximum of 15 years behind bars on an assault charge.
“I think the judge viewed all the evidence and did not only the right thing, but the legal thing in this matter,” the Garden City lawyer said Friday.
While Corrigan dismissed conspiracy counts against the 21 defendants, 13 of them still will face trials on other charges.
“MS-13 is a criminal enterprise with the shared goal of violence and intimidation,” Nassau district attorney’s office spokesman Brendan Brosh said in a statement on Friday. “We respect the judge, but we believe MS-13 membership constitutes a criminal conspiracy to commit violent crimes, including assaults and murders, under a reasonable interpretation of the statute. We are reviewing the decision and remain committed to eradicating this gang from our communities.”
Corrigan wrote that a review of grand jury minutes showed evidence didn’t support the prosecution’s theory of an agreement among the 21 defendants “to engage in murder and felonious assault in an effort to obtain world domination and to serve Satan.”
Corrigan previously dropped all charges against another defendant, bringing the total of those who have been completely cleared to nine.
Twelve people already have pleaded guilty and seven of the 41 defendants listed in the original indictment have yet to be arrested and arraigned, according to her ruling.
The June sweep made front-page news, when District Attorney Madeline Singas declared “41 of MS-13’s worst are facing serious criminal charges” and called the sweep “a major step to reclaim our streets.”
She also acknowledged “innovative use” of conspiracy charges, saying appellate courts had “specifically upheld the use of conspiracy in these kinds of investigations.”
But some defense attorneys griped at the time that their clients previously had been arrested, with those offenses forming the basis for new conspiracy charges.
In at least one case, a lawyer said his client had been sentenced and was serving probation for an offense that prosecutors then used as the underlying basis for a new conspiracy charge.