The government crackdown on the Latin Kings on Long Island Thursday netted 13 current or former members of the street gang, charging them with shootings, murder conspiracies and a host of other violent crimes, according to officials.
Many of the shootings or attempted shootings occurred in the Huntington Station area and came as a result of battles between the Latin Kings and four other gangs - the Crips, The Southside Posse, the Zulu Nation and MS-13, according to a federal indictment.
In the war between rival gangs, several people were shot and shots were fired at or into the homes of rival gang members, including one house where a 1-year-old was sleeping, officials said.
Other crimes attributed to gang members included the attempted shooting of a nightclub bouncer in Nesconset who had "disrespected" a gang member by punching him during a fight in the club, and the attempted robbery of a drug dealer in Kings Park, officials said.
This year to date has seen a sharp spike in arrests of gang members, with the FBI making 94 arrests in Suffolk and Nassau in conjunction with local law enforcement, according to preliminary figures complied yesterday by the U.S. attorney's office.
The number of such arrests was 20 in 2009, 21 in 2008, 41 in 2007 and 29 in 2006, the U.S. attorney's office said. Sources familiar with gang investigations noted, however, that such increases match the historical pattern of gang growth and arrests on Long Island.
"They raise their heads, increase their numbers, get violent and get crushed," said one source familiar with law enforcement activities against Long Island gangs. "Then a few years later, their younger brothers, or hangers-on, or newcomers to the Island start rebuilding, and the cycle continues."
In addition, it takes years to build cases against newly strengthened gangs, several sources noted. The current case against the Latin Kings started three years ago when the gang became active in the Huntington Station area, authorities said.
For example, sources said, federal prosecutors in April charged 17 members of another street gang - MS-13 - with violent crimes. But based on cases developed mainly in 2003, 120 members of MS-13 previously had been convicted on federal charges, more than a dozen involving murder charges, the sources noted.
Last month, federal authorities arrested 17 members of the Pagans motorcycle gang on Long Island on violence charges. Years ago, between 1999 and 2002, more than 100 members of the gang were arrested in an effort that closed down the Pagan chapters then on Long Island.
In Thursday's cases, a Latin King member turned informant by the FBI helped authorities, taping meetings and talks with other gang members and purchasing drugs and guns from fellow gang members, officials said. Some of the weapons were used in the shootings, officials said.
"The charges announced today are part of our continuing enforcement actions to make the streets and neighborhoods of Long Island safe for its residents and free of the fear and anxiety caused by gang violence," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said.
A number of charges in the indictment had been mentioned in previous arrests of Latin King members, but Thursday's indictments gave a broader picture of Latin King activity, particularly in Suffolk County.
Four of those arrested were arraigned Thursday afternoon in federal court in Central Islip. They all pleaded not guilty and were ordered held without bail. Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Capwell said the other nine would be arraigned at a later date.
Lottie Hibbert, a retired nurses' aide and 40-year Huntington Station resident, said Thursday she was "overjoyed" when she heard of the arrests. She said the area has become so unsafe because of fear of gangs that her granddaughter must be escorted to the bus stop because her parents fear for her safety.
"If they keep making arrests, we can get our neighborhood back," Hibbert said. "It will show them they are not welcome here."
With Deborah S. Morris