I turned away and smiled. I played gruff and sincerely attempted to be unbending and unwavering in my rules and dictates with them. But they all had me wrapped around their little fingers. And they knew it too. I adored them. They knew that as well. But they also feared being late or not hustling at practice. Punishment — corrective action, as I called it — was swift and unyielding. But much as they appeared to resist conforming to my rules and regulations, they craved the discipline and structure. I’m no psychologist. But I knew this to be true from years and years spent coaching and being a male role model in places just like Newburgh, New York.
So, I disarmed the alarm, unlocked my car door, slid into the front seat, and started the police-package super-charged engine. The radio blared on as soon as the engine turned over. I was immediately engulfed in the loud, angry, and somewhat plaintive lyrics from The Game’s “My Life,” featuring Lil Wayne. I looked back at the youngsters I’d assuredly see on Sunday morning back at these very same courts. There’d be no gang members to witness the hoops practices on Sunday. They typically eschewed early morning wake-ups. I glanced back at my kids. There were so many of them. So young. So full of life. So much promise. And I’d yet to meet one of their fathers. Some of them I knew to be BLOODs. The irony is that one of them might have been in the gaggle of men surrounding “00” on the corner earlier this very evening. It was now well past sundown. My kids were still out playing on the block. I shook my head at the thoughts of what might happen to one of them tonight if they got caught in the cross-fire. Not another Jeffrey Zachary. I couldn’t bear to consider it…
And then, almost on cue, came Game’s haunting lyrics:
Hated on so much, “The Passion of Christ” need a sequel
Yeah, like Roc-a-fella needed Siegel
Like I needed my father, but he needed a needle
I need some meditation, so I can leave my people
They askin’ “Why?” Why did John Lennon leave The Beatles?
And why every hood nigga feed off evil?
Answer my question before this bullet leave this Desert Eagle
I couldn’t have known at the time, but a few short short hours after I departed the Gidney basketball courts that evening for my short three mile trek home to feed my dogs, take a shower, lay my clothes out for the next day — Lather, Rinse, Repeat — a gang fight broke out DURING one of the later featured games. Someone was stabbed. The victim staggered across Gidney and sought refuge in the church gymnasium at St. Mary’s where I had coached my young charges with the Newburgh Zion Lions for years. The next day, the Newburgh police would reconsider the decision not to provide on-duty uniformed security at the summer games. The Newburgh City Council denied them the necessary personnel resources; a once 120-man force had been whittled down to just over 80, where it has remained now for almost two frustrating decades. The council, ever mindful of the long game, elected instead to deny permits for the following year’s tournament.
Problem solved. Situation resolved.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat…
While the fledgling HVSSTF began to gather momentum in the Fall/Winter of 2009-2010, my squad, C-32, began to morph into a full-time singular-in-purpose federal Safe Streets Task Force. We were attacking the violent street gangs in Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Beacon, Monticello, and Middletown with a vengeance. We installed covert street cameras, and enlisted the aid of IRS Criminal Investigation Division agents to examine the money laundering conspiracies attendant to the abundant drug trade the gangs monopolized to generate revenue. With the aid of the SDNY, we went up on numerous Title-III’s, consensually monitoring telephone calls and text messages. It was an all out federal war against the gangs, and as we painstakingly built the cases that would ultimately disrupt, dismantle and DISINTEGRATE the parasitic, blood-sucking leeches in the Newburgh BLOODS and Latin Kings, the murders seemingly continued at an unchecked and beguilingly relentless pace. And there was nothing we could do to prevent them.
We never knew when they’d occur, or where they’d take place. Shut down a violent street corner with stepped up police presence, and the gang would melt away and reconstitute on another corner in another section of town. It was an expensive and frustrating game of whack-a-mole. We continued to utilize our cooperating witnesses and undercover officers for controlled substance buys of gang members. But the one clunky mechanism in building federal cases is the fact that they simply cannot be expedited. They are slow, deliberate, methodical, and brutally efficient in their ninety percentile successful conviction rate. But we didn’t have time on our side…
We needed to stop the murders NOW. Every day, it seemed, the local Times Herald-Record trumpeted the homicidal pandemic in Newburgh. One headline from a March 6, 2010 article by a gifted and dogged Record reporter, Doyle Murphy, perfectly encapsulated the exigent circumstances: “Newburgh Gang Violence On White House Radar: Obama Hears Of Newburgh Violence.”
Newburgh was famous…or infamous…and for all the wrong reasons.
As the task force continued to steadily build the cases against “00” and “King Gunz,” both cases suddenly began to take recognizable shape. The federal narcotics conspiracy and R.I.C.O. case targeting the Newburgh BLOODS was to be code-named “Blood Drive.” And the case against the Latin Kings was ominously titled “Black Crown.”
And if there was anything in this world that I can say that I’m good at, it’s recognizing talent and putting the right folks in the right places to maximize an effort and enable success. So selecting Neil D. as the case agent for “Blood Drive” was a no-brainer. He was an attorney by trade, before joining the Bureau in 1990, and had years as a seasoned gang investigator honing his craft for some two decades in the most dangerous housing projects in New York City. He was an exceedingly bright and accomplished FBI Special Agent and possessed the right temperament for a pairing with a salty police detective.
So I joined him with Stevie B. In twenty-five years of service in the FBI, and many of those years on federal task forces that married FBI Special Agents with local cops, I had never met a more dogged and relentless detective than Newburgh’s Stevie B. He and Neil became a great team — and close friends for life, along the way.
On the Latin King side, I selected Jose F., or Jo-Flo, as we called him. He was Puerto Rican by birth, and 100% “street smart,” having worked as a cop in Miami’s Dade County before joining the Bureau in the mid-1990’s. He was paired with another Newburgh detective, Joe S., who was the “slow, methodical, and deliberate” to Jo-Flo’s hyper-kinetic balls-to-the-wall approach to investigations. Again, another perfect teaming.
I sat back in my office chair in Goshen late one afternoon, after the selections and pairings decisions, and lit a Cohiba cigar. There was no one left in the office; it was approaching 8:00 PM. I smiled at my blatant rules-breaking. Smoking in federal space had long been prohibited. Gone were the days in the early Nineties when I endured the haze and fog of pipe smoke, my eyes stinging as I squinted to keep them open, when visiting with my first Bureau supervisor. So the irony in my smoke entrails gathering near the ceiling now made me giggle. I placed my feet atop the desk, leaned back in my executive-level chair and smiled. We were about to blow this thing up. Newburgh was about to be … handled.
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