Jeffrey Zachary was murdered on his front porch steps by two Latin King sicarios, on the orders of Wilson “King Gunz” Pagan, the leader of Newburgh’s Latin Kings, on the night of May 7, 2008. It had only been about a year since he had been robbed of his life in front of his home at 27 Dubois Street, a few short city blocks from where I had now parked my car. Thoughts of his murder still haunted my mind and tortured my thoughts during many sleepless nights spent tossing and turning and asking why. The murder was to have been retaliation for the recent shooting of a Latin King by a BLOOD. Only the selected target wasn’t a BLOOD. He was, however, young and African-American. So, you’d understand the deadly mistake made by the assassins.
He was also a straight A student at the local South Junior High School and an exceedingly personable and gregarious youngster I had coached in a summer youth basketball league in the cozy gymnasium owned by St. Mary’s R.C. Church, which was a relative safe haven for the local kids from the ‘hood.
His senseless death, like so many in America’s inner-cities, should have been preventable. It haunted me, and still does. But, it gave me the means to confront my FBI superiors and provide a human face to the carnage and wanton violence consuming Newburgh from within. When I broke down while describing Zachary’s slaughter in front of one of my FBI bosses in the New York Office, he clenched his jaw, nodded, and said, “Go find the guys who did this, Jimmy. You have all the resources from us you’ll need. Go build a coalition of law enforcement entities in the Lower Hudson Valley and attack these parasitic gangs. We’re in solid agreement that this has to be our #1 priority in that region right now.”
Leaving his office at 26 Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan, I smiled slyly to myself, because I had already begun the process of assembling a super task force before I’d received permission to do so. The Hudson Valley Safe Streets Task Force (HVSSTF) was in its infancy. But it was already becoming a force to be reckoned with. It combined seasoned detectives from Newburgh, and Middletown, and Monticello — urban hubs that were dealing with much of the recent gang violence. And it also included deputies from the Orange County and Dutchess County Sheriff’s Offices, and senior investigators from the New York State Police. And to top it off, I’d defied all the naysayers, and actually convinced the DEA and the U.S. Marshal’s Service to participate in the effort, as well.
“You’ll never get them to take part in this, Jimmy,” the critics warned, “Too much bad blood and too many competing interests to see your inter-agency cooperation plans come to fruition. Law enforcement just doesn’t play nice in the sandbox with one another. It’ll never work”
But, blessedly, the contrarians were wrong. And the HVSSTF became a force to be reckoned with; a cudgel to wield against the violent street gangs. And when we were able to partner with the Department of Justice’s seasoned prosecutors at the Southern District of New York (SDNY), we had the final pieces in place. The SDNY elected to employ the R.I.C.O. statute — a brutally efficient prosecutorial tool that had been enacted in 1970 and had done a fair amount of damage to the Italian Mafia, La Cosa Nostra — “this thing of our’s” — criminal syndicates in America.
But, of course, “00”, Newburgh’s apex predator, could not have known all this as he haughtily held court now at the intersection of Gidney and Chambers. And though his attire was reflective of his station in Newburgh, it highlighted the gang culture as much as John Gotti’s $2,000.00 Brioni suits, silk ties, and Ferragamo loafers showcased his own during the late ’80’s.
This was Newburgh in the summer of ’09. And the city had slowly been building an awful reputation for violence. Of recent, the city had earned the ignominious distinction as “The Sixth Borough of New York” — less for its similarity to New York City’s 2:00 AM available international cuisine and fine Broadway and Theater District selections, than for its notoriously violent cityscape.
But basketball was one of the City’s passions, successes, and distractions.
And so, on this night, I watched slam dunk after crowd-pleasing slam dunk from my perch, standing immediately behind the east end basket. I witnessed dizzying coast-to-coast forays that resulted in Sportscenter-worthy dishes and breathtaking aerial acrobatics. I noticed the lack of police presence, as well. The police department had recently advised the city council that its limited resources were stretched too thinly. With this in mind, it would be impossible to commit dedicated patrol officers to stand guard at the courts. How shortsighted, I thought. How dangerous.
However, one of the clear mistakes the tournament’s promoter continued to make, year after year, was to allow teams to constitute themselves. This resulted in teams from “the Heights” and “the Ave” to square off. These were local territories with deeply entrenched loyalties and gang connections. This was folly. This was Newburgh in 2009, and it deeply reflected the consensus of law enforcement and investigative journalists alike. In fact, in September of 2011, New York Magazine writer, Patrick Radden Keefe, penned an ode to Newburgh’s travails entitled: “Welcome to Newburgh, Murder Capital of New York.” In the below passage, he fairly summed up the dangerous state of affairs in Newburgh, circa late 2000’s.
Beautifully situated on a picturesque bend in the Hudson about a 90 minutes’ drive north of New York City, Newburgh does not look, from a distance, like a community mired in High Noon levels of lawlessness. But in actuality, it has less in common with bohemian Beacon, just across the river (“Williamsburg on the Hudson,” as the New York Times recently anointed it), than it does with, say, West Baltimore. Despite its small size and bucolic setting, Newburgh occupies one of the most dangerous four-mile stretches in the northeastern United States. “There are reports of shootouts in the town streets, strings of robberies, and gang assaults with machetes,” an alarmed Chuck Schumer said in a Senate hearing last year, describing the situation in Newburgh as “shocking.” With a higher rate of violent crime per capita than the South Bronx or Brownsville, little Newburgh, population 29,000, is the murder capital of New York State.
And Anthony “00” Boykin was at the center of this firestorm. He was Al Capone, “Scarface,” and Don Corleone all wrapped up in one mythical local street figure. He was the rare gang leader who was as brutally efficient wreaking havoc with his own fists, or with a blade or a gun, as he was in issuing not-to-be-ignored orders to mete out the finality of someone’s existence — typically that someone had aggrieved a Newburgh BLOOD, or broken one of the rules that were part of the street code in 2009. “00” was a modern-day Pontius Pilate. And mercy was never considered part of his application of street justice.
When I had ingested a solid hour of dizzying Newburgh hoops perfection at Gidney, I turned in the direction of my car and noticed that “00” and his crew were gone. The corner they had occupied earlier now filled with small children, their peals of laughter and squeals of delight resonating from across the street. Several of them noticed me and waved furiously. “Coach Jimmy! Coach Jimmy! Are you running the Sunday morning workouts for the Boys & Girls Club this weekend?” I nodded and gave a thumbs up. “Don’t be late,” I barked. “8:30 AM sharp. See that back court over there, behind where the big guys are now playing? Look for me there. Be on time and ready to work.”
They jumped up and down, nodding their heads furiously in unison: “Can we scrimmage?”
“Of course. But only after we successfully complete all the drills.”
“Okay, Coach! See you then!”
(continued on next page)