Bloods gang invading South Jersey’s streets
by Jim Walsh (Courier Post)
March 30, 2010
Gangs have a long history in this troubled city, but the criminal group now causing the most concern is a relative newcomer.
The Bloods, an often-violent street gang that arrived in North Jersey less than 20 years ago, has steadily expanded its range to this area.
The Bloods — a collection of drug dealers, killers and other criminals — currently represent “the most serious gang problem” in about 65 percent of municipalities across South Jersey, according to a State Police survey.
But the Bloods are only the latest underworld power in Camden. They follow in the bloody footsteps of murderous groups from recent decades like the Sons of Malcolm X, the Perez Organization and the Middle of the Block Boys, or M.O.B.
Behind that constant criminal presence is an unending appetite for heroin, cocaine and other drugs.
“The demand for illicit drugs and services has been a sustaining force for gangs,” said Lee Seglem of the State Commission of Investigation. “The drug trade continues to be the lifeblood of gangs.”
Some of Camden’s local gangs initially resisted the push from national gangs like the Bloods, said Raymond Massi, a former Camden police captain who now is with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
But a more concentrated push to grab turf started here in 2004-05, leading to gains for the Bloods, said Michael Poulton, acting senior supervisory resident agent for the FBI’s Cherry Hill Office.
The number of reported Bloods in Camden County jumped to 859 in 2008, up from 457 two years earlier, according to the FBI.
“National gangs went through Trenton like a hot knife through butter (in 2003),” said Poulton. “They are doing the same thing in Camden right now.”
Indeed, an SCI report last year noted members of the Bloods “are prolific in both their use of violence and in their methods of recruitment, particularly within the prison system.”
It also notes the Bloods have expanded beyond gangs’ traditional demographic limits. “With a rank-and-file membership of every race, creed and color, they are equal opportunity recruiters,” says the SCI report.
That’s an evolutionary change for gangs that started in prisons “primarily as self-protective organizations” for inmates who shared a common racial or ethnic background, according to the SCI. Those groups include the Bloods, which began in California in the 1970s, as well as the Latin Kings and the Association Neta.
The Bloods’ early history in New Jersey is recorded, perhaps fittingly, in an October 2004 indictment. In that document, federal officials charged almost 20 alleged members and associates of the Double II set in Essex County with five murders, 14 attempted murders and other violent offenses.
The indictment says two California Bloods traveled to East Orange in 1993 and helped unify several local gangs, including the Drama Lords and Gutter Rats. That led to creation of the Double II set, the first in New Jersey, the indictment says.
About the same time, an inmate at Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York City formed the East Coast Bloods — also known as the United Bloods Nation, the indictment says.
The local Bloods adopted the hierarchical leadership structure of the West Coast Bloods, as well as such practices as using hand signals to communicate and feuding with rival Crips. They also identified themselves with red clothing and gang tattoos, and marked their territory with graffiti.
To join the Bloods, authorities said, newcomers were “put to work” — the gang’s term for committing acts of violence, including murder. Recruits also could be “beaten into the gang” — a 31-second pounding also used as a form of punishment.
From that start, says the SCI, the Bloods “evolved to become the fastest-growing, most dominant criminal enterprise of its kind both on the streets and in the prisons of this state.”
Here’s a look at some of the Bloods’ predecessors in the Camden area:
- The Sons of Malcolm X spread drugs and fear in the early 1990s. The group was linked to seven killings, including the deaths of three innocent victims during initiation rites one night in March 1992.
Three gang members also beat and set fire to a woman and a teenager suspected of stealing from a drug house. The woman died of her injuries.
Most of the gang’s leaders were imprisoned by 1995, but some later resurfaced in another deadly gang.
- The Organization flourished throughout the 1990s, collecting some $2 million annually from drug sales in The Alley, an isolated area near the now-demolished McGuire Gardens housing complex.
The drug ring was overseen by J.R. Rivera of Cherry Hill, who was known to the community as a Camden businessman. Rivera was arrested in February 1998 at his East Camden store, J.R.’s Custom Auto Parts, where investigators found more than $236,000 in drug proceeds.
Rivera later received a reduced sentence of 16 years after testifying for the government at the corruption trial of one-time Camden Mayor Milton Milan.
- The Perez Organization gained notoriety after the daylight slaying of a Rutgers-Camden senior, Hiram Rosa, outside his home near the school’s campus in February 2001. It was one of three murders blamed on the gang, which operated from January 1998 to September 2002.
Rosa, 22, was marked for death after he intervened in a turf dispute between a friend and a gang member, authorities said. An AK-47 assault rifle was used in his death.
The gang, which included former members of the Sons of Malcolm X, had revenues of $35,000 a week from a North Camden drug set, authorities said.
- The M.O.B. Boys took their name from a drug set in the 1200 block of Morton Street — specifically, the middle of the block. The violent gang, which operated from January 1998 to May 2006, was dismantled with a series of early-morning raids that netted 20 suspects.
- The Morales Organization operated from 1993 to 2004, selling kilograms of cocaine to area dealers and running an open-air market at Atlantic Avenue and Norris Street.
The gang’s leader, Raymond Morales, secretly switched sides after his arrest in March 2003. His cooperation helped prosecutors win convictions of more than 20 “high-level drug dealers” and four people accused in drug-related murders, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Morales has admitted to ordering the deaths of six people and trying to arrange the death of a witness. That death toll included one man who was the victim of mistaken identity.
The former drug kingpin faces a potential maximum of seven life sentences. But federal authorities have said that, under an agreement with Morales, the government can recommend that he not face life in prison.
A Morales hit man, Karah Moore, 36, of Camden, also became a government witness. He was sentenced Friday to 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to a murder and drug activity.
Authorities alleged Moore received $10,000 in cocaine from Morales for an April 2001 killing.