Gangs in Harlem are nothing new, but recently two gangs that for years struck fear among residents of a large Harlem housing project by openly selling crack cocaine and marijuana were brought down this week with the arrest of 19 members, the authorities announced on Thursday.
The gang members were ever-present in and around the complex, the Robert F. Wagner Houses, selling drugs in front of entrances and on playgrounds, and dividing their proceeds at a community center, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said.
“There was literally no way,” Mr. Vance said, for the residents in Wagner to avoid the drug dealers.
Mr. Vance said the arrests were the latest in Harlem that are part of a focused effort by his office to eliminate violent drug and gun gangs. The office’s violent criminal enterprises unit has prosecuted 132 members of seven Harlem gangs and seized 423 guns in the last 18 months, he said.
The investigation at the Wagner Houses began based on complaints from residents in the area, said Anthony Izzo, chief of the Organized Crime Control Bureau in the New York Police Department.
A detective last year began sifting through hundreds of hours of surveillance video, which is regularly recorded at the city’s public housing projects, and identified the members of the two gangs, Chief Izzo said. Undercover detectives then gained the trust of the gang members and began buying drugs from them, he said.
“They thought they were immune from law enforcement,” Chief Izzo said. “They thought they could operate with impunity. Well, this case illustrates that clearly they were wrong.”
The Wagner Houses, also known as the Triborough Houses, is a sprawling complex with 5,300 residents. Its 22 buildings occupy a vast stretch of land on the four blocks below East 124th Street, from Second Avenue to the East River.
The gangs, calling themselves 20 BLOCC and Flow Boyz, were loosely organized and had no hierarchal structure, the authorities said. The 18 men and 1 woman arrested, about half of whom live in the Wagner Houses, range in age from 18 to 28. One is accused of preparing crack from powdered cocaine inside an apartment at the Wagner Houses.
All 19 have been indicted on a felony conspiracy charge, and 13 of them were also charged with one or more counts of selling a controlled substance. Each charge carries a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.
- East Harlem Celebrates Defeat of Drug Gang (harlemworldmag.com)