By Pamela Lehman, OF THE MORNING CALL
11:05 PM EDT, July 24, 2010
As Bethlehem police were investigating a stabbing last year at a Dover Lane home, they came across a backpack with an inch-thick binder stuffed inside.
Officers needed only to read the title on the binder's cover to know they had found a key piece of evidence, one that would unlock the secrets of an increasingly menacing street gang.
The binder held the "Latin Kings Bible," the gang's manifesto. Stuffed inside its cover were hundreds of yellow-lined sheets of paper on which rules, codes, drawings, poems, prayers, rituals and symbols were collected.
Bethlehem police shared their find with federal authorities, who referenced the bible last week in indictments filed against 35 alleged members of the Bethlehem Sun Tribe of the Latin Kings. Hundreds of officers — local police, federal drug agents and SWAT team members — arrested dozens of the alleged Kings Wednesday, saying they used murder, kidnapping and assault to amass "territory, power and profits," in the Lehigh Valley and beyond.
The bible is listed in a search warrant inventory from the March 11, 2009, stabbing at the 1104 Dover Lane home, where police also found crack cocaine, heroin, an AK-47 and digital scales.
"It was a great find for law enforcement, because it gave us a lot of insight into the gang situation in Bethlehem," said Bethlehem police Lt. Mark DiLuzio.
"For the Kings, it wasn't so good," he said. "For a King to lose his bible, that's a big no-no."
Police figure gang members weren't happy that someone had carelessly left the bible unprotected. The day after the stabbing, police returned to the home to find a large stuffed monkey with a noose around its neck dangling from a tree. The word "snitch" was scrawled on a note nearby.
Like the Ten Commandments
The manifesto lists rules that Latin Kings across the country and world follow. But gang experts say local chapters often write additional rules.
They outline dress codes and chains of command, as well as a list of prohibited behavior.
The right hand is considered the dominant hand and is always displayed in front of the left. When members "throw" a hand sign of a crown, the Latin Kings' symbol, they must use the right hand.
Members should not sit with their legs crossed because their right leg represents the "King" and should not be crossed.
Members are allowed to sell heroin and crack, but prohibited from using the drugs. Smoking marijuana is allowed, but only during certain hours.
Kings are instructed to respect each other and not fight. They are not allowed to seek retaliation against fellow members without approval from higher-ranking members.
Any member that participates in homosexual activities will be suspended pending an investigation by a chapter council.
Some of the rules mimic the Ten Commandments: A member must not steal. A member must not "lust for pleasure" in another member's spouse.
Others are specific to chapters. Federal court records released Friday detail the Bethlehem Sun Tribe's laws, which state: "While a brother is speaking, he is to hold his crown upright until he is finished. If another brother interrupts, violations are a fine for the first violation, 'physical' for the second violation" and, "Any brother can urine test another brother if paid for by themselves."
Just starting out
Some version of the Latin Kings' bible was brought to Bethlehem in 2002.
According to federal court documents released after Wednesday's raids, the bible turned up about a year after Joseph Wallenberg, a ranking Latin King in Chicago, was sent to Pennsylvania to organize chapters in Bethlehem and Philadelphia.
In 2002, court records state, Luis Colon was chosen to lead the Bethlehem chapter. Colon, 26, of Allentown, is one of 12 alleged members of the Kings indicted Wednesday on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, drug and weapons charges. Eight years earlier, Wallenberg provided Colon with the "written manifesto containing the rules" of the national group, court documents state.
The manifesto is a road map to decades of gang history. Some gang websites suggest the Latin Kings' roots date to the 1940s in Chicago. At first, the gang was a way for Spanish-speaking residents to band together to protect themselves and their property. By the 1970s, some of its members had turned to crime, particularly drugs, and their activities had sparked violence.
In the 1980s, after a lengthy power struggle with members of the Chicago faction, Latin Kings chapters formed in New York and Connecticut.
Many regional factions of the Kings operate independently and have their own constitutions, according to a 2009 study commissioned by the FBI, National Drug Intelligence Center, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The Latin Kings have regional chapters across the nation, with an estimated 20,000 members in Chicago alone and another 50,000 across the country, the report states. The Kings also have chapters in Latin America and Europe.
What sets the Kings apart from other gangs is that they consider themselves to be a community-based organization, the report states.
The Kings often emphasize prayer, pride and respect, according to Know Gangs, a group that educates law enforcement and the public about gangs. They demand obedience and, law enforcement experts say they use beatings, threats and other methods of intimidation to achieve it. Members of the Bethlehem Sun Tribe, for example, have issued orders to "beat-down on sight" and "terminate on sight" members who have broken rules, according to the federal indictments.
The Kings make their money through drug sales, police say, though their rules prohibit members from using drugs harder than marijuana.
Obtaining a copy of the gang's rules is an unusual find, said Jared Lewis, founder of Know Gangs and a former Modesto, Calif., police officer. Some copies of the rules have been seized by police, such as in 2005 when the manifesto was confiscated during the arrest of 22 alleged gang members in New York.
Lewis said the gang is known for its sophisticated organization and keeping meticulous notes from meetings and internal court proceedings.
While portions of the Latin Kings' manifesto speak of spirituality, Latino pride and the importance of education, other sections detail beatings and order members to share drug sale profits, Lewis said.
"There's a lot of warm and fuzzy stuff in there, but then you'll see rules about beatings and take-out orders," Lewis said. "While they may be trying to promote a positive image, their actions speak differently."
Members who break the rules by failing to share drug sales or not respecting higher ranking members may be brought before a "court," which doles out penalties. Sometimes members are fined for their indiscretions. Other times they can be reprimanded, beaten or killed.
In the indictments released Wednesday, examples of the punishments are detailed:
On Nov. 25, 2007, the indictment states, Sun Tribe leaders held a meeting in which they decided to implement beatings as "punishments" for members who violated the manifesto.
Not even Colon, who as "King Respect" was the leader of the Bethlehem Sun Tribe, was immune to the rules, authorities say. At one meeting, at least six other men gave Colon and his top lieutenant, Jesse "King Pride" Zayas, 27, of Bethlehem, 90-second beatings for breaking some aspect of the code, the indictment states.
An unidentified member got a three-minute beating in 2007 for taking "$600 from the tribe's shared financial resources without permission," the indictment states.
The Kings' rules emphasize that any member who goes against the gang will suffer the consequences.
Their motto: "Cowards die many times before their ultimate death. A King never tastes death but once."
Bethlehem police would not say whose bible they confiscated on Dover Lane. Court records say the victim and the man charged with stabbing him were members of the Latin Kings.
DiLuzio said the information in that binder gave police important clues into how the gang operates. And that makes the book treasured almost as much by police as it is by gang members.
Reporters Steve Esack and Matthew Birkbeck contributed to this story
Source: Federal court documents
BETHLEHEM TRIBE LAWS
No brother is to sway or rock side to side during the prayer. Each brother is to hold a strong upright position.
No phones are to be brought to/into meetings, also no beads, or flags.
No smoking before any meeting.
Every brother is to contribute $10 a week to chapter funds.
If a brother gets locked up, he or she has 30 days to let the chapter know your charges and court dates.
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