East Harlem Violence Drops as Final Gang Members Plead Guilty
HARLEM—The last two defendants arrested as part of a takedown of 62 people in three violent East Harlem gangs have pleaded guilty to conspiracy and attempted murder charges, prosecutors said Thursday.
Using statements made by the 62 defendants on social media and recorded phone calls from Rikers Island, members of East Harlem crews, Air It Out, True Money Gang and Whoadey were implicated in three murders and more than 30 shootings, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said.
Gabriel Shelton and Sean Terrell Jr., both 19, were members of Whoadey, prosecutors said. Shelton pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon. Terrell pleaded guilty to attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
With these last two pleas, all 62 people arrested as a result of the 3 1/2-year investigation have pleaded guilty. Shelton and Terrell will be sentenced on June 3 and face up to 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.
The crews used hundreds of Facebook and Twitter posts and text messages to sell firearms and plot the murders of their rivals.
"They were responsible for terrorizing the East Harlem community, engaging in a bloody gang war that claimed the lives of at least three teenagers and were responsible for dozens of shootings," Vance said in a statement.
The three crews operated around Johnson Houses, Taft Houses and Lehman Houses where violence spiked in the 23rd Precinct as two of the crews, True Money Gang and Whoadey, united against Air it Out.
From October 2009 to April 3, 2013 there were seven homicides, 46 non-fatal shootings, and 17 reports of shots fired within the 23rd Precinct. From April 2013 to March 31, 2014 there have been two homicides, three non-fatal shootings, and no reports of shots fired.
"It's made a huge difference," said Deputy Inspector Eric Pagan, the commanding officer of the 23rd Precinct.
But with 11 public housing developments in the area comprising 95 buildings, Pagan said the goal is to not become complacent.
He said he has officers, both uniformed and plain clothes, focusing on pockets where crimes such as robbery jump. Anytime a juvenile is listed on a complaint, an officer from the precinct pays a visit to the family.
"Ninety-five times out of 100 there is a way to help these kids, we just have to find it," Pagan said.
Vance has targeted the youth crews since taking office, issuing 12 indictments against 13 gangs.
The Rev. Vernon Williams of Perfect Peace Ministries works with young people in Harlem to prevent gang violence. He said the aggressive prosecutions and convictions have made remaining gang members "uneasy."
"They don't want to see 25 or 30 years in prison. They are not as ready to go for the gun," Williams said.
The goal now is to reach the 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds who are at risk. Williams' group is partnering with other organizations around Harlem to reach children as early as possible to steer them away from gangs.
Williams said he's also continuing to advocate for the funds necessary to fight the problem.
"We are encouraging grassroots and other community groups to keep fighting because if you leave it, the problem will lay dormant for a minute and then go back to what it was," Williams said.
"At the end of the day we are not fighting against children who act badly, we are fighting against poverty, which is behind all the situations in these young people's lives causing them to act out."