Feds charge longtime gang kingpin, Crips members in N.J.

By Tim Darragh | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on February 11, 2016

Corey Hamlet, left, (Blaze) and Keon Bethea (Fat boy) were charged today by the U.S. Attorney's office.

 

NEWARK — As the alleged long-time leader of the local Grape Street Crips gang, Corey Hamlet ordered "brazen" daytime shootings, sold drugs, engaged in robbery and extortion and terrorized Newark neighborhoods, federal prosecutors say. 

On Thursday,  FBI agents arrested Hamlet and three alleged Grape Street crips associates without incident. 

Hamlet, 39, of Belleville is facing an indictment for conspiracy linking him to four murders, three attempted murders and a host of other criminal acts, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said Thursday

In a press conference, Fishman also announced that three other Crips members from Newark were being charged with distributing heroin and cocaine. 

Hamlet's arrest follows up on the arrest last May of 50 alleged Grape Street Crips members, including two individuals who were second- and third-in-command behind Hamlet, he said.

The Grape Street Crips control much of the heroin trade in northern New Jersey, Fishman said. They kept that control through violence and intimidation, sometimes via social media, he said at the press conference.

"The people of Newark should not have to endure that kind of violence or the fear that it breeds," Fishman said. 

Hamlet is being charged with RICO conspiracy, violent crimes in aid of racketeering, aiding the use of firearms in crimes of violence, witness tampering, robbery, extortion and drug trafficking, according to the indictment. 

The gang's willingness to carry out attacks on rivals sometimes caught innocent victims. Fishman noted an incident in Newark on March 3, 2014, where he said an an associate of Hamlet fired wildly after a car chase and crash. A bystander was killed along with a person in the targeted car.

Another killing occurred in November, 2013, when 30-year-old Anwar West of Irvington was gunned down for attempting to settle a dispute between Hamlet and another gang member, Fishman said. 

Hamlet's control of the gang was so great that even as he was serving a nearly 6-year-long prison sentence through 2012, he was able to communicate orders to gang associates, Fishman said. 

Fishman said he hopes the arrests will bring some peace to Newark, including the Pennington Court public housing project where some of the alleged gang members operated. 

But he and Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said the city police department has to do it with a force of 950 officers compared to 1,700 in the late 1990's. 

"It's definitely a resource issue," Ambrose said. 

Given those resources, Fishman said the multi-agency investigation into the gang was "exactly" how law enforcement needs to tackle deep-rooted criminal networks. He noted that investigators employed "a lot of wiretapping" to build the criminal cases. 

Agents from the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency led the investigation, which included the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, Newark police and the Essex County Sheriff's Office.

On each of the charges of RICO conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute cocaine and using firearms during crimes of violence, Hamlet facings a maximum penalty of life in prison. Other individual charges carry prison terms of three years to a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison. In all, he faces 10 counts in the 28-count indictment under which 14 individuals already have been charged.

The others arrested Thursday are Sean L. Scott, 45, Keon Bethea, 33, and Jamil Harrison, 32, all of Newark. 

In initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Clark, all four were held pending bail hearings.

Hamlet, wearing a red sweat suit, smiled at supporters in court at one point. As some started crying, Hamlet said, "I'm okay."

Bethea and Harrison, charged with one count of distributing cocaine, face a mandatory minimum of five years and a maximum of 40 years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $5 million, if convicted. Harrison, who has a criminal record, could face additional penalties as well. 

Scott, charged with one count of distributing heroin, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years and a maximum fine of $1 million if convicted. He also could face stiffer sentencing because of his criminal record.

 

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