The surge in violence in Brentwood and Central Islip is drawing promises of greater community vigilance and prompting a push for federal help in locking up gang members.
Among hundreds who attended a public meeting Wednesday about recent violent attacks on people in the community was Leonard Tucker, who owns the Brentwood home where a 15-year-old boy was fatally shot in November.
"It's boiling over," said Tucker, who recently helped found an anti-gang group. "We have had too many children killed by violence."
At least 11 people have been killed in the past year in the two communities and several others wounded. Much of the violence has been attributed to gangs including MS-13 and Latin Kings.
In a letter this week to FBI director Robert Mueller, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) cited "the magnitude of the violence in a small geographic area" and asked for "critically needed" help from the agency. In a statement Thursday, she noted the FBI has an MS-13 National Gang Task Force based in Washington, D.C., and experience prosecuting members of one of the nation's most violent gangs.
Since 2002, the FBI has led the Long Island Gang Task Force, which includes the Nassau County police and sheriffs departments and Suffolk, Hempstead, and State Police, as well as the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. FBI spokesman James Margolin declined to comment Thursday on the gang issue in Suffolk but said the agency is "constantly assessing the landscape as to where we can apply our unfortunately somewhat limited resources."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said he welcomed more federal gang investigations in the county, which he called "periodic" and limited in manpower.
"We have the ability to pursue [racketeering investigations] locally, but you get to a whole new level if you have the weight of the federal government behind you," he said.
The turnout was so large Wednesday night that hundreds of people could not get into the packed meeting room. Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) said he is planning to hold another forum in a larger venue, and Brentwood school board president George Talley invited residents to follow-up sessions, in English and Spanish, at Brentwood High School on April 12.
While the federal racketeering law known as RICO initially targeted the Mafia, it has been employed against street gangs. In 2005, prosecutors in federal court in Central Islip won the first racketeering convictions of MS-13 members. Dozens of gang members from Long Island and New York City have since been convicted on federal charges.
To qualify for a RICO prosecution, a gang must have a common purpose, a membership, a structured hierarchy, and a pattern of criminal activity over time. A conviction under the federal statute usually carries a much stiffer penalty than a conviction in state court.
Violence shakes Brentwood and Central Islip
Feb. 27: Alexander Santos Argueta-Ventura, 24, stabbed to death on Gates Ave.
Feb. 17: David Sandler, 20, fatally shot on Timberline Dr.; another man was seriously wounded.
Dec. 30, 2009: Valentino Sanchez, 21, shot to death in his Pheasant Circle apartment.
Nov. 20, 2009: Christopher Hamilton, 15, killed by gunfire at a party.
Sept. 12, 2009: Miguel Peralta, 57, killed during a bodega robbery.
July 12, 2009: Edgar Villalobos, 28, hacked to death with a machete by alleged MS-13 members.
Aug 29, 2009: Masked gunmen open fire on a birthday party, wounding four people.
Feb 5: Vanessa Argueta, 19, and her toddler son are fatally shot.
Feb 12: Kevin Pierson, 38, found stabbed to death in his apartment.
Aug. 21, 2009: Angel Liciaga, 67, found stabbed to death in his home after not being seen for several days.
May 26, 2009: Dexter Acheampong, 24, shot to death on East Maple St.