Police and federal prosecutors have hammered them with one crackdown after another, but a city narcotics gang called the LRGP Crew keeps resurfacing with new leadership.
For the third time since early 2012, members of the FBI-led Safe Streets Task Force on Friday launched an attack on members and associates of the violent gang that allegedly controls crack cocaine trafficking in the neighborhoods near the Broadway Market.
The LRGP Crew takes its initials from Lombard Street, Rother Avenue, Gibson Street and Playter Street, four East Side streets where the gang’s influence is especially strong.
Federal prosecutors filed felony charges of drug possession with intent to distribute against 12 people allegedly associated with the LRGP drug gang, which U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. described as a “particularly notorious” city narcotics crew.
The gang, which has been operating on the East Side since at least 2011, has been involved in “evil and violence … including murder,” Hochul said during a Friday news conference on Broadway, a few blocks from the popular ethnic food market.
Friday’s arrests were part of an ongoing federal crackdown on city gang activity that was described as “very effective” by Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda.
“Bill Hochul and the federal people have been very helpful. They’ve taken more than 200 gang members off the streets since 2010,” Derenda said. “It has been making a difference. Violent crime in most categories is down in the city.”
The commissioner did not cite specific statistics, and efforts by The Buffalo News to get violent crime statistics from a police spokesman were unsuccessful Friday afternoon.
Derenda lauded the efforts of Hochul, thanking the federal prosecutor and the FBI for concentrating their efforts on gang violence in Buffalo since Hochul took office in 2010. According to a map displayed at Friday’s news conference, members and associates of 14 different street gangs have been federally prosecuted in recent years.
Gangs listed include the LRGP Crew, the Tenth Street Gang, Seventh Street Gang, Latin Kings, Cheko’s Crew, Fruitbelt Crew, Bailey Boys, Camp Street Crew, Loiza Boys, Perry Crew, Project Boys, Rounds Crew, the Theresa Anderson Crew, and the Schuele Boys.
“Most of the arrests have involved these gangs,” Derenda said. “More than 50 arrests were of the Tenth Street Gang alone.”
FBI agents said Friday’s arrests targeted the LRGP Crew.
“I grew up on Lombard Street, and it is a different place from when I grew up there,” said Derenda, whose officers worked on the investigation with members of the FBI, State Police and Erie County Sheriff’s Office.
FBI agents identified Nathaniel “Stretch” Myers as the lead defendant among the 12 people who were charged Friday. Hochul said the defendants face felony drug conspiracy charges.
This is not the first time authorities have tried to stop the LRGP crew, said Holly Hubert, assistant special agent in charge of the Buffalo FBI office. In January 2012, charges were filed against 20 alleged LRGP members and associates. Five months later, charges were filed against 20 more alleged members and associates.
“After all those arrests, we learned that the gang had reconstituted itself,” Hubert said.
According to Hochul, one of the defendants arrested on Friday – whom he identified as Erika Gray – was also arrested in 2012.
“She was arrested with the previous group. She was released on bail and was on supervised release when we learned that she had become involved with narcotics again … so we charged her again.”
The other defendants charged Friday were identified as Anthony Newbern, Augustus Kidd, Brandon Miller, Damien Carmichael, Judy Berry, Ka’ron McDuffie, Marcus Edwards, Matthew Johnson, Vaughn Owens and Willielee Jernigan. Ages and addresses were not released. Newbern and Owens were still at large late Friday, authorities said.
In addition to the drug possession charge, Myers, Carmichael and Johnson are accused of maintaining a house on Houghton Avenue for the purpose of “manufacturing, distributing and using crack cocaine,” Hochul’s office said.
If Friday’s round of arrests does not put the gang out of business, there will be more investigations and more arrests, Hochul said. “Even when we arrest 12 people, or 20, we don’t go away,” he said.