August 08, 2007
MS-13 Gang "Entrenched" On Long Island
The East End, like many places around the country, is being infiltrated by a violent gang, the La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.
Reports of a recent gang-related incident in Greenport have shattered the peace of mind of some residents living in the village and surrounding communities, after two Shelter Island men were savagely beaten by seven gang members brandishing baseball bats. The motive, police said, was gold chains the victims wore on their necks.
Gang activity is not unique to the North Fork, said Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, who worked with former Greenport Mayor David Kapell to bring a chapter to the village after residents expressed concerns about crime and drug activity.
Sliwa asked Kapell if he felt the recent incident was symptomatic of a growing MS-13 presence in Greenport; Kapell said he didn't believe so.
That's not to say that the MS-13 presence has not been growing Island-wide. "MS-13 seems to put its palm print on Nassau and Suffolk Counties," said Sliwa, with gangs located in communities such as Valley Steam, Baldwin, Freeport, Copaigue, Brentwood and Huntington Station. Other MS-13 influences can be found in Riverhead, he said. "They're entrenched. They're growing."
Unfortunately, added Sliwa, the influence of the MS-13 gang "grows with the national reputation they've developed for their predatorial and viciousness as a street gang."
The alleged defendants, Carlos Enriques Camps and Salvador Amadeo Salazar-Orellana, identified themselves as members of MS-13, one of the most deadly and notorious gangs in the nation. They wore traditional blue-and-white clothing typical of MS-13 gang members.
During the attack, several of the assailants allegedly shouted they were part of the MS-13 street gang and told the victims they were going to die.
The victims, ages 27 and 21, live on Shelter Island; one suffered a skull fracture and the other victim sustained a fractured cheek bone and orbit bone. Both received numerous cuts, abrasions and contusions.
So severe were the injuries, said one individual who asked not to be identified, that one victim almost lost his life and had to undergo extensive cosmetic surgery.
Both defendants were charged with felony counts of gang assault in the second degree and robbery in the second degree.
Less than a month later, a Sag Harbor man, Marvin Velasquez-Moreno, was arrested on July 29 after beating another man unconscious on the Greenport railroad dock.
The two violent incidents had far-reaching effects, rocking residents in surrounding communities such as Sag Harbor and Shelter Island. "People talk about the war in Iraq," said one Shelter Island woman who asked not to be identified. "There is a war brewing right here."
Of the first incident, Southold Town Police Captain Martin Flatley said he does not see the incident as a trend. "We know that there was some type of interaction between the victims and the subjects who were arrested, at an earlier date – they were known to each other," he said, and reportedly had an earlier conflict. "It was not just a random assault that took place in the street."
But according to a recent in-depth report on MSNBC the MS-13, who are considered by the FBI to be the most dangerous gang in the U.S., are leaving their mark from El Salvador to Honduras to Guatemala to New Mexico, and now in Suffolk County. In the last decade, the United States has experienced a dramatic increase in the number and size of this transnational street gang, according to the report, and have quickly become a nationwide problem. Youngsters in middle school are joining or being recruited, and according to two local sources, day workers are also being persuaded to join the gang.
Southold Town Police Chief Carlisle Cochran said the incident involved a fight between acquaintances, one of whom had to be air-lifted to Stony Brook for treatment of his head injuries. "I don't believe there to be terror in Greenport," said Cochran. "Are there people concerned about some of the activity in different areas of Greenport? Yes, by all means. But I don't believe that gangs are controlling the streets in Greenport. That's not happening."
Cochran said there are some believed to be gang members living in the village. "It's not a secret. But is there a lot of gang activity? Not to our knowledge." Flatley said the town police department has been going to great lengths to stem the tide of potential gang activity. The Southold detective division and officers who work in the Greenport sector, are focusing on the village, because there has been some evidence of subjects "displaying some type of gang affiliation" there.
Flatley said gang activity is "a big item" in Suffolk County, and, when the county began organizing intelligence groups and round tables, local police departments got involved – Riverhead has also identified gang members there.
Last year, after an East End Drug Task force effort, a massive undercover sweep on the North Fork resulted in 30 arrests, with three defendants belonging to the Bloods gang and one to the Crips. Recently Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota announced a Riverhead crackdown on drug dealing and gang activity; six Bloods gang members were arrested.
A similar 2005 bust in Riverhead sparked a migration of drug dealers toward Southold and Greenport. "Many moved east and as a result, we moved east, as well," said Spota. "Drug dealers are moving, they're mobile, and we have to move with them."
Why Greenport? Cochran said anywhere there is a dense, diversified population, with individuals hanging out more in the streets, there is an increase in such activity. In other hamlets, there is no one around and nothing to do. Riverhead, which has also dealt with gang issues, is an example.
Known for being extremely violent, MS-13 gang members tend to wear blue and white and sport tattoos in visible areas such as their foreheads, knuckles and cheeks.
It's difficult, said Sliwa, to keep the insidious MS-13 gang out of the country. "They go back and forth across the boarder. They're deported to El Salvador and then, boom, the next thing you know, they're back across the border in their old haunts."
Some question a connection between day laborers and MS-13 gang members who "recruit" them and hire them to work for their profit. Both Sliwa and another expert who asked not to be named said they had never heard of such activity. Sliwa said many MS-13 members hold jobs as day laborers and socialize with other MS-13 members at night.
As for gang activity in Greenport increasing, Sliwa said the recent incident was "the exception to the rule."
Bob Clifford, spokesman for Spota, said as of Monday there was no data to support those who believe there is a growth in gang activity in Southold or Greenport.
In Southampton, Nancy Lynott, who organizes yearly gang awareness seminars in Riverhead, said a recent teen assessment program survey indicated that nine percent of respondents identified themselves as gang involved. Respondents were 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students in Southampton Town.
"It is moving east," she said. "The fact that one out of every 10 kids is reporting gang involvement is really pretty significant. It's something we have to be constantly aware of."
Greenport Mayor David Nyce said he doesn't believe there's been an increase in gang activity or any gang activity at all. "There have been scares of gang activity out here for years. I haven't seen any." He added, "Everyone keeps trying to blow this out of proportion."
Residents, he said, have registered fears and complaints about drug activity and crime in general, but not gang-related. "When that whole MS-13 thing came up, it shocked the heck out of me," said Nyce.
As for drugs and crime, he said, "It's fair to say that the element does exist. But it exists everywhere. There's a myth surrounding a lot of this. The first step is to dispel the myth that there are gangs running around the streets here."
But others disagree, with one woman saying a friend moved away after the most recent crime. "People are so afraid."
A local boating enthusiast who used to visit Greenport on summer evenings said he's stopped going there. "There are streets downtown I would no longer walk down." As for the MS-13, he said, "They aren't hiding. They are proud to be who they are."