Street gang members arrested Members of the Latin Kings, which has ties to Camden, were accused of drug and weapons counts.

Posted: October 31, 2002

In what they called a crippling blow to a major criminal syndicate, New Jersey law enforcement officials announced the arrest yesterday of 41 members of the Latin Kings street gang.

The indictments on drug, weapons and racketeering charges mark the end of "Operation Catapult," a 14-month investigation targeting the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, as it refers to itself.

"The Kings' home is their castle," Keith Bevacqui, a detective in the state police Street Gang Unit, said after a news conference in Newark. "The best weapon to attack a castle is a catapult."

Police used yesterday's announcement to launch a second operation, the "Gangs, Guns and Drugs" initiative, which will put gang task forces in seven New Jersey cities.

Court documents unsealed yesterday provide a glimpse of a group structured more like a Fortune 500 company than a collection of thugs and drug dealers.

The lowest level of organization for the Kings consists of local chapters throughout the state. The leaders in these groups are ranked by crowns. Positions range from the commander, who holds the title of first crown, to the secretary, who is fifth crown, according to court documents.

The local officers answer to a seven-member state crown council, which police say called the shots in a criminal network that dealt drugs, fenced firearms, and sold stolen cars after their vehicle identification numbers had been altered.

They also extorted membership dues, the indictment said, "enforcing the collection of monies owed to the enterprise through murder, kidnapping and threats of violence."

The elected chairman of the state council, police said, was Juan Carlos Torres, a 25-year-old roofer from Paterson, Passaic County, known on the street as "King JC."

Council members included Elliott "King Nino" Ambert, 25, of Paterson; Isabelino "King June" Gonzalez, 42, of Paterson; Rosa "Queen Element" Cruz, 30, of Elizabeth; and Nelson "King Gucci" Alvarado, 31, of Brooklyn, N.Y. They have been charged with money laundering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, and leading organized crime.

More than 30 lower-level Latin Kings have been arrested, almost all of whom were members of the gang's Newark, Jersey City and Paterson branches.

Four residents of Ocean and Atlantic Counties were also indicted, accused of running the gang's Shore division: Wilfredo "King June" Acevedo, 22, of Egg Harbor Township; Jose "King Spitz" Figueroa, 24, of Beachwood; Christopher "King Apocalypse" Rodriguez, 20, of South Toms River; and Thomas Marino, 24, of Toms River.

Police said the Kings ran a complete cocaine and heroin outfit, gathering large supplies of narcotics and distributing them to dealers throughout New Jersey and in central Pennsylvania cities such as York, Lancaster and Reading.

"It went from the street level all the way to mid-level traffickers," Bevacqui said. "We went from seizing crack vials to seizing 12 kilos of cocaine, worth about $360,000."

While this round of indictments focused largely on North Jersey, the state's "Gangs, Guns and Drugs" operation will also put teams of investigators and prosecutors in Trenton, Atlantic City and Camden, where police say they have noticed an increased Latin Kings presence. Camden police fear the Latin Kings are taking over the drug territory formerly controlled by Enrique "Rick" Perez, who was indicted last month with 10 of his associates.

Like Operation Catapult, the next wave of enforcement will focus on attacking the leadership hierarchies of gangs such as the Kings, Bloods, Crips and Netas, a group with its origins in the Puerto Rican prison system.

"If you kill the head, the body will die," said Peter C. Harvey, New Jersey's first assistant attorney general. "This is just the beginning."

Contact Jake Wagman at 856-779-3829 or jwagman@phillynews.com.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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