By Jeff Mays and Shayna Jacobs
DOWNTOWN — Two Harlem youth gangs running a violent crack- and gun- dealing operation centered on one Central Harlem block have been busted by authorities in an investigation personally led by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr., his office announced Wednesday.
Vance said 14 members of the "2 Mafia Family," also known as 2MF, and "Goons on Deck" are among the city's "most violent criminal gangs." Based on 137th Street between Lenox and Seventh avenues, the crews joined efforts to run a brisk crack and cocaine business in a residential community that is home to churches, schools and community centers, Vance said.
The alleged gang members were caught discussing criminal business through recorded phone calls from Rikers Island and also on Twitter and other social networking sites, authorities said. Vance said there were over 1000 recorded calls, including many that were intercepted from jailed gang members at Rikers to alleged "137th Street Crew" members who were purportedly holding down the street operations.
In the excerpts of Dec. 2 calls listed in the indictment, one of the alleged Harlem gang members, Jaquan Layne, 20, gave instructions to another purported gang member, Jeffrey Brown, 19, on how to sell drugs, and asked "if the money was flowing...on the block."
Brown allegedly said, "The most I bust yet was a $70 dollar sale yesterday."
Layne, whose alias is "Jay Cash," then proceeded to advise Brown on the best way to earn drug money, the DA said.
"You gotta be out there in the morning...Just sit in front of the stoop in the morning. You catch all the morning flow, cause they'll all like come see you," Layne began, according to the recording. "Boom, boom, boom. Cause that's the morning. That's their first high, so you know they're gonna come get that."
The indicted members were charged with conspiracy, gun and drug charges. A series of arraignments began in Manhattan Supreme Court late Wednesday morning. Vance himself stood before the judge as the defendants were arraigned in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Several of the alleged gang members face life in prison if convicted of the top felony charge, first-degree conspiracy. All but two of the defendants were in custody Wednesday morning and awaiting arraignment.
Prosecutors said the gang members used female associates to carry and sell firearms in an attempt to conceal their illegal activities. One of the suspects arraigned Wednesday, Afrika Owes, 17, is accused of carrying guns for the gang.
"She is widely known among the individuals in the indictment and in her peer group as one of the females who carries the guns for the males so when the males get stopped by the NYPD the gun is not found on [them]," said Assistant District Attorney Christopher Ryan, adding, "This is a very, very commonly known tactic by gang members."
The group also allegedly recruited youths under age 16 to carry and transport guns and drugs.
The 137th Street block had been lorded over by the crews and their activities for years, locals told DNAinfo reporters over the course of the past year. Last year, DNAinfo chronicled the rise in Harlem youth gangs and the way locals have been terrorized by them with an interactive map and the harrowing tales from locals caught in the crossfire between dozens of gangs scattered throughout Upper Manhattan. The immediate surrounding areas are home to the Abyssinian Baptist Church and Harlem Hospital.
"Although criminal activity has thankfully dropped citywide over the past few years gang activity remains a constant threat," Vance said at a press conference Wednesday.
One alleged gang member, Jonathan Hernandez, 19, was charged with attempted murder for allegedly firing a handgun into a crowd on Fourth of July weekend last year.
Jarel Robinson, 17, was the only alleged gang member to be released without bail on Wednesday. Prosecutors said he had posted several photos of his friends — who are allegedly fellow gang members charged in the conspiracy — to various social networking sites and Photobucket.
He is "a prolific poster of Internet photographs of himself and his fellow gang members," ADA Ryan said. At least one of the photos shows Robinson pointing a gun at the camera, Ryan added.
But his lawyer said Robinson is nothing more than "a serial photo uploader" who is charged with nothing substantial in the 51-page indictment that ties him to the drug- and gun-ring conspiracy.
"[They] have not separated the gangsters from the wannabes," in this case, said Anastasios Sarikas, Robinson's lawyer.
Prosecutors expect to charge members of other organized gangs in the future.
Prosecutors have identified the following defendants who were charged as part of the gang bust: Jaquan (Jay Cash) Layne, 20, Dashawn (Rock) Davis, 20, Jeffrey Brown, 19, Jonathan Hernandez, 19, Habiyb Mohammed, 31, Malik (Zab) Layne, 18, Jahlyl (Lyl) Layne, 18, Afrika Owes, 17, Jazeke (Zeke) Samuels, 17, Pierce Gross, 18, Brandon (Monk) Santiago, 17, Jarel (Rel) Robinson, 17, Tyrone (Tata) Gibbs, 18, and Louis (Lou Money) Williams, 17.
The Rev. Vernon Williams, who has worked for several years to curb gang violence, said he was excited to hear that Vance would prosecute the cases.
"I believe that the District Attorney's willingness to have a hands-on approach is refreshing. It's a sign that he wants to uphold law and order," said Williams.
For years, Williams said he felt like no one was listening to the concerns he was raising about the rise in Harlem youth gangs.
"It pays off when you keep banging pots and pans in the forest because it eventually chases the bear away," he said.
He added that the success of the arrests and prosecutions depends on how deep the investigation went into dismantling the gang.
"If they just got the young guns and not the adults who are facilitating this activity, it's not going to do much," he said. "There is no such thing as osmosis when it comes to gangs. There are adults who are facilitating this violence and death in our community."
Many locals say the existence of gangs has become a fact of life in the area.
"You have to walk without fear and mind your own business. The problem is that a bullet has no name," said Marisa Negron, 52, a restaurant manager.
"More needs to be done than just arrests," Negron added. "Right now, these kids don't have good alternatives and outlets."
Monique Caines, 23, an event coordinator has lived in the area her entire life and said she's not sure the arrests would make a difference in the long haul.
"The only way this makes a difference is if they keep them in jail for a while and they get all of them. If there are some left on the streets, it's not going to work."
Caines said parental control is the issue.
"It's up to the parents to control their kids. They have to find positive outlets," she said.