In the eyes of police, there are few gang members as notorious as Efrain “Cheko” Hidalgo.
One of the recognized leaders of the 7th Street Gang, he was at the center of a turf war with the rival 10th Street Gang that led to murders and shootings and turned the lower West Side into a bloody battleground.
Hidalgo, arrested in 2011 after fleeing to Puerto Rico, on Thursday admitted to taking part in four fatal shootings, including a double murder in 2004 that sent the wrong man to prison.
The former gang leader appeared before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara and, as part of a plea deal, admitted playing a role in the murders of Nelson and Miguel Camacho inside their Niagara Street apartment.
Two others, Misael “Bori” Montalvo and Brandon Jonas, also are charged with taking part in the murders. They have pleaded not guilty. The three defendants, accused of shooting the Camachos as part of a robbery attempt, were scheduled to go on trial next month.
As part of his agreement with prosecutors, Hidalgo also admitted taking part in the shooting deaths of rival gang member Eric Murrow in 2009 and Virgil Page in 2010.
“The plea agreement accounts for all of the murders and violent acts,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Tripi said of the numerous allegations of violence against Hidalgo.
If he cooperates with investigators, Hidalgo, now 29, could reduce his likely sentence from a maximum of life in prison to a maximum of 34 years.
Defense attorney Clarence Johnson declined to comment on his client’s plea, but Hidalgo told Arcara at one point, “I had to come forward. There were a lot of things I had to clear up."
The charges against Hidalgo, Montalvo and Jonas also raised questions about the guilt of a man already serving time in prison for the Camacho murders.
Josue Ortiz’s murder conviction, based on a false confession, was ultimately vacated and he was released from state prison.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force, a coalition of police agencies that led the crackdown on West Side gangs.