By MARY MURPHY
pix11.com | @wpix
10:00 PM EDT, November 4, 2011
NEW YORK (PIX11)
They terrorized one street in central Harlem but gave themselves nicknames, modeled on a late mobster from Queens.
20 members of the "1-2-9" gang, based on West 129th Street, between Fifth and Lenox Avenues, were busted by the FBI and NYPD and brought to court on Friday. "Guns were routinely stashed," District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, said. "Stashed in mailboxes, under stoops, in storm drains, on rooftops."
Vance said gang members had access to the weapons, when they needed to exercise control over their turf. "This was territorial, not commercial," Vance said, meaning "1-2-9" was not trying to protect any financial interests from drug dealing or other criminal activity. The gang, he said, primarily engaged in gun play with rival factions.
The gang members arrested ranged in age from 17 to 24. Two of the 17 year old suspects are accused of attempted murder. All of the suspects are charged with felony conspiracy. Police seized a bunch of weapons during their investigation, including a Chinese-made semi-automatic rifle, a Tec-9, several pistols, and some 9mm automatics. One suspect was charged with child endangerment, because his guns were stashed in plain view around a five year old child. At a Friday press conference, Vance said of the gang members, "They went by the names 'Goodfellas' and 'The New Dons'." The indictment indicated one of the suspects, Hodean Graham, was known as "Gotti Twin-- a nod to the criminal dynasty created by the late Gambino boss, John Gotti.
Gregory Smith, a defense attorney for one of the suspects, said outside court, "Conspiracy doesn't mean the person actually did anything. It means that maybe, perhaps, they had as conversation. The people have a heavy biurden to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt." Many of the young suspects' mothers and fathers showed up at the lower Manhattan courthouse, but none wanted to talk to the media.
PIX 11 did talk to some neighbors and visitors to West 129th Street, including a 16 year old girl who said gangs routinely protect "their strip". Another teen said of 1-2-9 "I heard of them. I walk past. I just keep it going." And a woman named Shey, who lives around the block from West 129th Street, said she understood why the young people were arming themselves. "You got to protect yourself some kind of way," she said. "If I thought I could have a gun, I'd have one or two. Look at America today. We're at war with other countries, and we're at war in our backyards."
Cyrus Vance pointed out West 129th Street is the most dangerous block in the 32nd Precinct. He said the gang bust was designed to take guns off Manhattan Streets and noted 162 people have been shot in all of Manhattan this year, so far. 22 of those shootings were fatal.
The District Attorney's office is now launching a youth sports program on Saturday nights in the precinct, hoping to give young people positive outlets from the brutal gang activity. "I see our job in the District Attorney's office as not just law enforcement," Vance said, "but how we can prevent violence."
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