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Prosecutors file charges in roundup of gang Seventh Street Gang target of crackdown

Federal prosecutors on Friday filed racketeering charges against 17 people allegedly tied to a notoriously violent street gang as police agencies continued their crackdown against gangster crimes on Buffalo's West Side.

The charges -- including allegations about two murders, six attempted murders and a robbery -- were filed against members and associates of the Seventh Street Gang, also known as Cheko's Crew, U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said.

"The days of Cheko's Crew and the Seventh Street Gang committing shootings, murders and drug deals in the City of Buffalo are over," Hochul said.

While police try to deal with a rapid increase in gun-related violence in the city, the Safe Streets Task Force and other agencies have made significant progress against gangs that have terrorized the West Side, Hochul said.

The FBI, State Police and other agencies worked closely with Buffalo Police on the case, which resulted in felony charges of racketeering and conspiracy, he said.

The federal indictments accuse seven people -- alleged gang leader Efrain "Cheko" Hidalgo, Kasiem Williams, Esteben Ramos-Cruz, Juan Torres, Jordan Hidalgo, Uda Hidalgo and Ritchie Juarbe -- of participating in the Aug. 11, 2009, murder of Eric Morrow, 21, of Kamper Street.

Morrow was shot in the chest as he stood near a home on Auburn Avenue. Police identified him as a member of the Tenth Street gang, a rival of Hidalgo's gang.

The indictment also charges Efrain Hidalgo with taking part in the shooting death of Virgil Page, 32, on June 5, 2010. Page, a Town of Tonawanda resident, was gunned down on 19th Street, police said.

Williams, then 21, was sentenced to up to 25 years in state court last year after he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the Page slaying.

More than 30 alleged associates of the Tenth Street gang have been locked up in the past year, federal authorities said.

Bob Kuebler, the leader of a West Side youth group, was asked by The Buffalo News if the crackdown has had an appreciable effect on violent crime.

"They've made a lot of arrests, and I do think it's quieter out there, but there is still a lot of violence on the West Side," said Kuebler, director of the Youth With A Purpose program, headquartered at Holy Cross Church on Seventh Street.

"We just had two people shot on 18th Street this week. Arresting people is not the whole answer. What we really need is more opportunities for young people on the West Side."

The two people shot on 18th Street late Tuesday afternoon were identified by police as Vernon Hardy Jr., 24, who was killed, and Eullanda Reed, 17, who was treated for a gunshot wound to her arm.

As of Wednesday, Buffalo police said 105 people have been shot in the city this year, including 13 who were killed. The number of shootings was up 70 percent from the same period last year.

Federal prosecutor Joseph M. Tripi on Friday also filed felony charges against: Sammy Ortiz, Jason Dryzmala, Joseph Whitely, Brittany Ground, Cecilio Medina, Carmen Geter, Alejandro Navarro Gonzalez, Luis Medina, Leslie Cunningham and David Tirado.

Gangsters from the Seventh Street and Tenth Street groups have waged a bloody war over drug trafficking for years, police said.

Investigators said the Seventh Street gang has been linked to West Side violence since at least July 2006, when a stray bullet fired by one gang member struck and killed Edith Torres, 46. Torres, of Seventh Street, was a mother of four.

Torres was an innocent bystander who was hit by gunfire that was being sprayed at a group of people during an argument, police said.

Axel E. Pizarro, 16, pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to at least 7 1/2 years.