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'From fistfights to shootouts': Feds describe gang feuds on eve of trial

When a stray bullet killed Badraldeen "Badr" Elwaseem, a 12-year-old boy standing in his apartment a hundred feet away from where the shot was fired, one of the first reactions was to suspect gang violence.

More than a year earlier, at a news conference just a stone's throw from where Badr was killed, federal prosecutors had announced the arrest of 11 suspected gang members and spoke publicly for the first time about violent gang rivalries in the neighborhood around Towne Gardens Plaza.

"Tonight," Mayor Byron W. Brown said at the time, "every resident of the Towne Gardens community can sleep more easily."

Next week, those rivalries and their bloody consequences – two murders are at the crux of the case – will become the focus of a federal court trial with more than 200 potential witnesses, some of them former gang members.

The jury trial, likely to last at least two months, will also include rap videos that prosecutors say were produced by members of the CBL/BFL gang and documented their drug dealing and use of violence.

"The gang's notoriety increased through its own efforts and so did its rivalries with other gangs," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul C. Parisi and Seth T. Molisani said in a pretrial brief. "The gang's feuds escalated from fist fights to shootouts."

Defense lawyers see the rap videos as prejudicial and predicted the government will trot them out during opening and closing statements and several times in between.

"They prey on the unfair stereotypes about young African American males," said defense attorney Robert C. Singer.

Investigated by the FBI's Safe Streets Task Force, the gang is believed to have formed in 2009 and used Towne Gardens as its base of operations.

The gang’s turf, which they referred to as “down the way,” went beyond the housing complex and included an area bounded by Genesee Street to the north, Seneca Street to the south, Michigan Avenue to the west and Stanton Street to the east.

The gang's moniker, CBL/BFL, stands for “Cash Been Long” and “Brothers For Life,” but other, cruder versions have been used by members.

[RELATED: Federal indictment details alleged gang feuding near Towne Gardens]

Prosecutors said gang members lived in the nearby housing complex and sold drugs – heroin, fentanyl and crack cocaine – out of their homes. The gang is also accused of using violence and intimidation to threaten witnesses who might otherwise have cooperated with law enforcement.

The trial will also include allegations that one of the defendants, Dalvon Curry, killed two people as a result of a "shoot-on-sight" rivalry with several other gangs.

Prosecutors allege that 19-year-old Jaquan Sullivan, shot and killed on the city's West Side in December 2015, was Curry's first victim and that Curry later confirmed his guilt in comments to other individuals.

"Curry made various statements like, 'I didn't kill him; he killed himself,' " Parisi and Molisani said in court papers.

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Charged with two counts of murder, Curry is also accused of pulling the trigger in the shooting death of Xavier Wimes on New Year’s Day 2017.

The indictment alleges that several members of CBL/BFL beat up the 22-year-old Cheektowaga man inside an apartment where they were holding a party and tried to keep him there. He escaped by jumping out of a window, breaking his leg in the fall.

Prosecutors say Curry later tracked Wimes down and shot him at about 1 a.m., making Wimes the city's first homicide victim of the new year.

Kevin Spitler, Curry's defense lawyer, declined to comment but Curry has declared his innocence in the past and pointed to what he says is a lack of evidence linking him to killings or the CBL/BFL.

In court papers, Spitler asked U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo to prohibit the showing of any rap videos linked to the group, a request he echoed during a court appearance Thursday.

He wants Vilardo to question jurors about their exposure to rap music and how they view it and even suggested the types of questions he would ask.

"Are you familiar with rap videos?" he asked. "Have you seen a rap video? Do your children watch rap videos?"

The defense also pointed to the "racial overtones" connected to the word "gang," which is used extensively in the federal indictment at the crux of the case.

"That term shows up at least 100 times," said defense lawyer Daniel M. Griebel.

The government's case will focus on Curry, but two of his co-defendants, Larell Watkins and Maurice Rice, are on trial with him. Watkins, accused of providing Curry with the gun used to kill Wimes, is also charged with murder.

Badraldeen Mohamad Elwaseem, 12, died after being struck in the head by a stray bullet. (Contributed photo)

The trial is not expected to include any mention of Badr, the young boy from the Towne Gardens neighborhood killed last April, but his murder is being linked to the gang violence that will be front and center in the case.

The boy was inside his family's second-floor apartment a little after 8:30 p.m. when a bullet came flying into his house and struck him in the head. He was rushed to Oishei Children's Hospital but could not be saved.

Across the street, in the parking lot of the Towne Gardens shopping plaza at William Street and Jefferson Avenue, gunfire had erupted.

Prosecutors would not comment about a link to gang rivalries in the neighborhood, but their indictment the year before detailed more than a dozen shootings involving feuding gang members and suggested that rivalries abound.

Shortly after Elwaseem's murder, the FBI's Safe Streets Task Force, the multi-agency group that investigated the CBL/BFL, joined the Buffalo Police Department's investigation into the killing, which remains unsolved.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers declined to comment for this story. Jury selection in the trial is expected to begin Monday.

Badraldeen's family lives on the second floor of this building on William Street. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

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