Last Thursday, the Manhattan district attorney’s office announced the indictments of 19 individuals accused of operating an open-market narcotics distribution ring in Harlem’s largest public housing development, the Robert F. Wagner Houses.
“They thought they were immune from law enforcement,” claimed Anthony Izzo, chief of the NYPD’s Organized Crime Control Bureau. “They thought they could operate with impunity. Well, this case illustrates that, clearly, they were wrong.”
Despite surveillance cameras being installed nearly a decade ago in the entrances, lobbies, elevators and stairwells as well as on the rooftops and exteriors of each of the 22 buildings that comprise the vast complex that stretches from 120th to 124th streets and Second Avenue to F.D.R. Drive, residents say they have had little effect on reducing crime. The cameras are supposed to be recording every day at all times.
“The lead investigator was able, as I said earlier, to pore over hours and hours of videotape, and from that point on, was able to identify the hierarchy of the two drug organizations’ members,” said Izzo. “That intelligence was passed off to undercover officers who were able, painstakingly, to infiltrate the groups.”
They fingered the 19 suspects as members of the Flow Boyz and 20 BLOCC, which investigators say operated out of Wagner and the nearby Taino Towers, directly across Second Avenue. The investigation began three years ago after locals complained about heavy drug traffic.
Of the 19 indicted on felony conspiracy charges, ranging from 18 to 28 years of age, 13 were also hit with an additional count of selling a controlled substance. Each charge carries a possible sentence of 25 years in prison.
“Today, we effectively closed an open-air drug market in East Harlem,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced. “What I think you’re trying to do is to build a case that has an impact so that when the indictment is dropped, the case is as strong as it can be, and that therefore, the impact of the indictments and the potential sentences that are involved are as appropriately high as they can be. If you just pick off a ‘buy and bust,’ you achieve something, but you don’t take out the gang.”
High-profile public housing shootings this summer have placed the spotlight on the New York City Housing Authority. Housing Authority Chair John Rhea said they are working with the police to combat crime. Said Rhea, “More than half of them are public housing residents…so our goal is not only that they are busted, but removed from public housing, making the community safer long-term.”
Reportedly, 132 members of seven Harlem gangs have been arrested and 423 guns seized in the past 18 months. The indictments represent the seventh takedown of a Harlem drug gang in 18 months, Vance said.