FBI: New Bedford Prime Focus of Latin Kings Raid
BOSTON — This morning over 500 federal, state and local law enforcement arrested dozens of Latin Kings members and associates and executed 31 search warrants at 24 locations – including locations in New Bedford at 358 North Front Street and 239 Sawyer Street.
"We have currently charged 64 people in all and additional charges may be coming," said U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling at a press conference in Boston this morning to announce the results of "Operation Throne Down." "In addition, 31 search warrants are now being executed across Massachusetts in Boston, Springfield, and Haverhill, but focusing mostly on location in New Bedford, Massachusetts."
Lelling said drug trafficking by the Latin Kings has "severely impacted" New Bedford, "a community already reeling from the opioid epidemic and now subjected to drug-related shootings and feuds between rival gangs."
In total, 23 of the 64 people arrested had either New Bedford addresses or ties to the Latin Kings operation in New Bedford. They include:
– Jose Rodriguez, "King Stutter"
– Orlando Santiago-Torres, "King Landi"
– Robert "Bobby" Avitabile
– Taliyah Barboza, "Queen Taliyah"
— Michael Cotto, "King Gordon"
– Josue Carrasquillo, "King Playboy"
— Juan Figueroa, "King Pun"
– Isaac Felix-Rivera, "King Izzy"
– Kevin Guadalupe, "King Milly"
– Shelton Johnson, "King Shells"
– Tyson Jorge, "King Music"
– Emanuel Lopez-Velez, "King Manny"
– Luis Mendez, "King Primo"
– Raekwon Paris, "King D-Bo"
– Jayco Reyes-Smith, "King Javy"
– Luis Santiago, "King Tiny"
– Roberto Vargas, "King Royalty"
– Jose Vazquez, "King Fearless"
– Natanel Velaszquez, "King Nael"
– Ines Lugo, "Queen China"
– Jeremia Medina, "King Sweepy"
– Tanairy Ruiz, "Queen Tanairy"
– Xavier Valentin-Soto, "King X"
Lelling said a pattern of witness intimidation has emboldened the Latin Kings across Massachusetts, but especially in New Bedford. Gang-related violence spiked in the city in the summer and fall of 2019 with Latin Kings members "brazenly issuing threats to rival gang members over social media" and allegedly planning murders of their rivals.
“I am grateful for the work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with the FBI and state and local law enforcement agencies, in undertaking such a comprehensive effort to neutralize the activities of the Latin Kings across New England,” New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said in a statement. “Over the last several years, New Bedford has made considerable progress on improving public safety citywide, and the arrests today in our city will help us close the lid on violent crime in the near North End.”
Lelling announced that the reputed East Coast leader of the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation was one of those charged in the multi-state raid which focused upon cities in Massachusetts.
Michael Cecchetelli, 40, of Springfield, is the alleged conduit between the Eastern states and the Latin Kings national leadership in Chicago. Also known as "King Merlin," Cecchetelli allegedly ordered members to aggressively increase gang influence in Massachusetts and along the East Coast, and ordered the murders of those who questioned his authority.
In addition to Massachusetts cities of Boston, Springfield, Worcester, Fitchburg, Lawrence, Haverhill, and New Bedford, arrests were made this morning in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Jersey. Nine people were charged who are already in custody, and there are warrants out for other suspects.
The arrests, which commenced this morning at 4 a.m., capped a four-year investigation called "Operation Throne Down." The situation is still fluid and other arrests and charges could be forthcoming, Lelling said.
Lelling said law enforcement was able to infiltrate the highest levels of Latin Kings leadership and make secret recordings of gang strategy meetings, ceremonies, and internal proceedings in which gang leaders punished subordinates for violating gang rules, including ordering that certain people be killed.
During the investigation agents were able to intervene and prevent at least eight murders from happening, Lelling said.
Across all raids, FBI agents seized dozens of firearms, a number of cars, six motorcycles, three jet skis, an ATV, various drugs, and approximately $38,000 in cash. They deployed seven FBI SWAT teams from throughout the Northeast, along with tactical teams from the Massachusetts State Police and the Boston Police Department. They used five aircraft supporting the ground operations along with three canine units.
As of Thursday afternoon, 56 subjects had been taken into custody, eight were actively being sought, and nine were already behind bars, Lelling said.
The Latin Kings started in Chicago 40 years ago and has become one of the largest criminal operations in the world with thousands of members. Lelling said they have evolved from a street gang to a well-organized criminal enterprise.
"This operation was intended to dismantle the Latin Kings leadership in Massachusetts starting with Michael Cecchetelli, who holds the title of Supreme East Coast Regional Overseer in the Latin Kings," Lelling said.