Pubdate: Tue, 01 Feb 2000
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2000 The Eagle-Tribune
Contact:  P.O. Box 100 Lawrence, MA 01842
Fax: (978) 687-6045
Author: Jeffrey Klineman, Eagle-Tribune Writer

Agents: 'Sweep' hit Lawrence drug trade

LAWRENCE -- Federal agents helped Lawrence police break up a
well-organized street gang that they believe is responsible for a
large share of the city's drug trade.

Yesterday's sweep led to the arrests of two Haverhill men, one of whom
was a major player in the Lawrence gang, police said.

The agents, working with state and local police, staged more than 30
undercover drug buys over the past year, building cases of cocaine and
heroin distribution and illegal gun possession against members of the
largest street gang in Lawrence, the "Latin Gangsta' Deciple (sic)"

The result of those undercover buys -- many of which were caught on
videotape, and all of which featured some form of surveillance -- came
down yesterday: indictments for heroin and crack distribution and gun
possession by felons against 14 alleged gang members, including the
highest echelons of the gang's leadership.

Of the 14 indicted, 13 were arrested yesterday morning in their homes
as part of the sweep that encompassed Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen and
Salem, N.H.

"This was a good case for federal involvement," said U.S.

Attorney Daniel K. Stern. "It wasn't just individual involvement in
various crimes. It's a fairly high level of organization. It's not
your typical street gang. They had a president, captains, enforcers
and organized meetings."

Part of the indictment was based on videotapes and audiotapes of those
meetings, where gang members plotted to distribute crack and heroin
and discussed violence that would take place or had taken place in
support of those plots, according to Lawrence Police Chief John J. Romero.

"This gang was certainly responsible for more violence," Chief Romero
said. "This was the major gang in Lawrence."

The gang is believed to have been involved in many recent shootings in
the Lawrence area, including one on Friday in which a 15-year-old girl
was wounded in the chest.

Luis Angel Flores, 28, is believed by authorities to be the president
of the gang. He, along with alleged gang captains Edgardo Colon, 27,
Antonio Santiago, 25, Victor Laboy, 25, Manuel Rivera, 20 and
Haverhill's Juan Matias, 24, were arrested along with seven other
rank-and-file gang members. One member, known only to authorities as
"Bani," remains at large.

Mr. Matias lives at 42 S. Central St., officials said. The other
Haverhill man, Christian German, 18, lives at 124 Summer St.,
officials said.

Investigators from the New England Organized Crime Drug Enforcement
Task Force conducted the investigation after the FBI began to believe
that many of Lawrence's recent violent crimes were linked to the gang.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Massachusetts State Police,
Lawrence Police, the Essex County Sheriff's Department and the Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms all were involved in the gang sweep.

Cities recently have begun to involve federal authorities in their 
investigations into gang crimes because of their broad investigative
powers and the heavier penalties that many drug and gun convictions
bring in federal court.

A cooperating witness and confidential informants helped authorities
tape the gang members during five meetings in recent months, and also
provided information about the gang's activities, history and
organizational scheme, according to an affidavit sworn out by Special
Agent Mark Karangekis of the FBI.

In addition to the organizational meetings, multiple drug buys were
recorded on videotape or on audiotape, according to authorities.

"During the course of the investigation we bought both drugs and
guns," said Kevin Cloherty, the chief of the drug unit in the U.S.

Attorney's office. "We bought heroin, we bought cocaine base, which is
otherwise known as crack, cocaine hydrochloride, or plain cocaine, and
we bought two guns."

Many of the heroin buys allegedly took place at Antonio Santiago's 
apartment at 6 Tenney St. in Methuen. That apartment sits two blocks
from the Methuen-Arlington Neighborhood community policing substation.

Authorities recovered drugs and documentary evidence of the gang's 
organizational structure during the arrests, according to Special
Agent-In-Charge Barry W. Mawn, head of the Boston FBI office. FBI
agents learned that gang members paid a cut of the profits from their
illegal activities to a central fund, called the "fundle."

"They would have to pay a percentage. Their criminal activity would
have to be blessed by the council," said Agent Mawn.

The arrests of the gang's leadership may allow another gang to move in
and take over part of the drug trade from the LGD, Mr. Stern, the U.S.
Attorney, acknowledged. It is known that the LGD has been in active
competition with a gang known as the Outlaws. Last February, one of
the Outlaws was arrested on charges he had shot an LGD member.

"We're going to be very alert to the possibility that others will move
into the area," Mr. Stern said. He added his office would continue to
investigate gang-related activity in Lawrence, possibly taking action
against the Outlaws.

"We're going to continue here," added Agent Mawn. "I'd characterize
this as a first step." 
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