Suspects from Schenectady gang sweep before judge over bail status

Criminal cases against members of the city’s Four Block Gang were based in part on testimony from fo

Criminal cases against members of the city’s Four Block Gang were based in part on testimony from former gang members and wiretaps, a federal prosecutor said during court hearings Wednesday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Terrence Kelly gave new details into the investigation that authorities believe took down the Four Block Gang. The gang, according to the racketeering conspiracy indictment against them, was involved in murder, attempted murders and drug trafficking.

In court Wednesday, Kelly used the members’ own Internet postings against them, in which they identify themselves as Four Block members. The judge appeared to give added weight to that evidence in deciding their bail status.

Kelly also said the March 2010 killing of Four Block Gang member Alphonso Pittman involved a “rival street gang.” Authorities have previously said Pittman’s killing involved a relationship dispute.

More than 200 law enforcement agents descended on addresses in Schenectady and elsewhere May 26, sweeping up a total of 30 suspects by mid-morning. Five others were already in custody.

Authorities began their investigation after four teenage girls killed themselves two years ago. Three of the suicides were the direct result of harassment and belittlement suffered at the hands of gang members, authorities said. Other girls attempted suicide.

Authorities looking into the suicides soon realized there was a gang connection and an intensive federal, state and local investigation followed. In all, 44 face federal indictments involving acts in Schenectady, Glenville, Niskayuna, Saratoga Springs and as far away as Rutland, Vt. In the morning raids, authorities seized $11,000 in cash, three handguns, one AK-47 and 200 grams of crack cocaine, authorities said.

Still at large

Six suspects remain at large, Kelly said Wednesday.

Still sought are: Henry Beard, 18, and Linsandro Brown, 34, both of Schenectady; Frank Moreno, 30, of the Bronx; Henry Keene, 35, of Medford; Terrance Neal, 35, of Brooklyn; and El-Hajj Moses, 18, of Albany.

About 13 of those in custody appeared in U.S. District Court in Albany Wednesday afternoon for detention hearings to determine their release status pending trial. Several waived their hearings through their attorneys.

Among those asking for a hearing were Leon Robinson, 18, identified in the indictment as one of the “Four Block Original Gangsters” and alleged gang member Charles Lewis Jr., 19.

Judge David Homer ultimately ordered both held pending trial.

As to both, Kelly outlined allegations previously contained in the racketeering conspiracy indictment, including that members of the gang feuded with other gangs and that those feuds resulted in murders and attempted murders.

The allegations, Kelly told the court, were based in part on testimony from former Four Block Gang members. He did not indicate how that testimony was obtained.

That testimony identified Robinson as one of the founders of the Four Block Gang.

Robinson was previously arrested on Aug. 14, 2010, along with two other alleged gang members, his brother Kwame Robinson, 19, and Arsheen Montgomery, 18. The three, and a fourth suspect, Mikell Butler, 20, were found by police in a car with a gun, seven grams of crack cocaine and an electronic scale with residue. The four were charged in connection with the incident.

Kelly tied the gun in that incident to a shootout identified in the indictment.

In that shooting, defendant Jose A. Serrano, 20, was accused of firing at a rival gang member July 24 on Elder Street.

Kelly said the shootout resulted in a Four Block Gang member wounded in the leg.

A shell casing left at the scene later matched the gun found with the Robinsons, Montgomery and Butler, Kelly said.

Defense attorneys attempted to refute Kelly’s comments and cast doubt on the testimony from the alleged former gang members.

Question of trust

Leon Robinson’s attorney, Ryan Donovan, told the court the case against his client appeared based wholly on the testimony of the alleged former gang members.

“The only proof is the proposed testimony from gang members, people who are admitted gang members,” Donovan told the court, suggesting they couldn’t be trusted.

Homer interrupted, asking about the Facebook postings, whether those were proof in addition to the other testimony.

Donovan argued they weren’t. He also argued that since his client’s arrest in the Aug. 14 incident, there have been no problems reported.

“If he was a flight risk, he’d be gone by now,” Donovan told the court.

Homer cited the Facebook postings in his detention ruling, saying those and other evidence offered by the prosecution showed the case “as strong, if not overwhelming” and ordered Robinson and Lewis held.

Last week’s sweep was centered largely in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood, where the Four Block Gang was firmly established by at least 2007, according to the indictments.

Since then, the gang maintained “exclusive control” over the drug trade in Hamilton Hill, despite the rival gang members and they continued in the face of shootings and previous arrests, authorities have alleged.

Hill association

Fred Lee, president of the New Independent Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, said Wednesday that residents are thankful for the effort of law enforcement, but sad at the age of many of those accused.

Lee also said work needs to be done to stem the demand, with a good share of the blame laid at the doorstep of drug buyers.

“It’s sad that the same financial reward isn’t available in other venues for these young kids and adults, as well,” Lee said. “We need to work on stopping the buyers and we need to work on strong alternatives so the next generation isn’t lost in this terrible situation.”

Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney on Wednesday echoed Lee, saying the problem exists on both sides.

“The law of supply and demand remains true, as long as there are drug users and drug addicts, people will take the risk of going to prison to make money off of them,” Carney said.

Carney noted efforts through treatment programs, including drug court, to get at the demand problem. There’s also an active re-entry program for parolees that tries to minimize the risk that they will reoffend.

Efforts continue on the police end, as well.

State police Lt. Michael Tietz, with the Community Narcotics Enforcement Team, noted that, historically, new groups take the place of ones rounded up. Specifically, he referenced a large local sweep in the early 1990s.

Tietz, who was among those present at Thursday’s press conference, called it a cycle that needs to be broken.

“We can lock people up all day, but there’s going to be other people coming in to fill the gaps until they realize the different alternatives and make the right choices,” Tietz said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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