An alleged Bloods gang member is facing federal charges in the slayings of two people who died three years ago in a shooting near Bay Shore's train station after attackers with guns approached to rob them, authorities said Friday.
Taheem Smith, 25, of Farmingville, pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Central Islip on Friday to an 11-count indictment that included charges of murder in aid of racketeering, according to federal prosecutors.
The U.S. Attorney's Office has alleged Smith was one of two armed assailants who demanded money and valuables from victims David Arzu, 29, of Bay Shore, and Janelle Curella, 28, of Manorville, before a struggle ensued and both victims suffered fatal gunshot wounds.
But Smith's appointed attorney, Richard Langone, said Friday afternoon that his client was not a member of the Bloods gang and had no criminal history.
"He's never been arrested in his life," the Mineola lawyer said, adding: "We'll see what the rest of the facts establish as the government starts providing me with discovery material."
Authorities said the deadly violence broke out shortly before 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 2, 2016, as Arzu and Curella walked along Center Avenue on their way to the train station with two other people.
A female witness who survived the attack previously told Newsday the shooters wore hoodies along with bandannas that covered their faces.
That witness said the victims were in a group of four that also included a male friend of Arzu's and that the group had planned to catch a train to Riverhead after hanging out in West Babylon and at a Bay Shore mall.
That surviving witness also said Arzu's male friend broke free from a struggle that started and hid behind a parked car and that she also ran and hid, but that gunshots rang out.
The same woman, who was a friend of Curella's, said the Manorville woman had been trying to break free from addiction and had been in drug rehab while also holding a job at a Riverhead outlet store at the time she died.
Arzu was the father of a young child and owned a collectible coin business, another friend of his told Newsday at the time of his killing.
Smith also faces charges of racketeering, robbery and gun and drug-related offenses and is facing up to life in prison if found guilty, according to federal prosecutors.
Eastern District U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement Friday that Smith carried out the killings "to increase and maintain his own standing in the ruthless Bloods street gang."
A spokesman for Donoghue declined to comment on Smith's alleged co-conspirator, including whether that unnamed person still was at large.
Authorities said they arrested Smith on Thursday before a judge placed him in federal custody following his arraignment.