Dozens of gang members in Boston charged with drug trafficking, COVID-19 fraud

Acting U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Joshua Levy is seen in a frame from video supplied by his office

BOSTON (AP) — Dozens of gang members operating mostly out of a public housing development in a Boston neighborhood have been accused of dealing drugs, targeting their rivals in shootings and recruiting young people with the enticement of appearing in their songs and videos, federal authorities said Wednesday.

Acting U.S. Attorney Joshua Levy said the charges against the more than 40 members and associates of the Heath Street Gang included unemployment and COVID-19 fraud totaling more than $900,000. They are also accused of organized retail theft, in which they allegedly stole thousands of dollars in merchandise from stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, including Nordstrom and Victoria’s Secret.

“One of the core missions of the Department of Justice is to keep communities safe, and the case we are announcing today goes right to that bedrock priority,” Levy told reporters, adding that nearly two dozen members of the gang were arrested Wednesday morning. Over 60 firearms were also seized as part of the two-year investigation.

“The defendants charged in the racketeering conspiracy have been alleged to be involved in three separate murders and multiple shootings,” he said. “Some of those shootings left innocent victims in crossfire, including a 9-year-old girl who was severely injured attending a family gathering.”

Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox said the case shows the department’s willingness to listen to the concerns of the community in and around the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments in Jamaica Plain. He was hoping the charges and arrests would help build trust with residents.

“These bad actors that we targeted today took advantage of young people,” Cox said.

“They used fear and intimidation and violence to gain personally. They took advantage of the youngest amongst us,” he said. “They took advantage of the sons and daughters in these neighborhoods and turned them to a life of crime. This is an impactful investigation. This is going to be impactful for our city for some time to come.”

The gang members, many of whom are expected to appear in court later Wednesday, are accused of attempting to murder rival gang members, dealing drugs, including cocaine and fentanyl, and recruiting juveniles to serve as lookouts, to hold guns and drugs and to “engage in shootings.”

“That is a problem we’re hearing about from urban police chiefs across Massachusetts and frankly across the country,” Levy said. “The honest law-abiding people who live in the Hailey apartments want the same thing we all want. They want to be able to send their children off to school, out to play without fear they are going to be hurt or recruited into a gang.”

The gang is also accused of widespread pandemic-aid fraud, including one defendant who applied for unemployment assistance in 10 states and Guam. The gang also is accused of submitting nearly two dozen fraudulent employment letters for a company called Married 2 The Mop and bragging of using the pandemic funds to buy over 100 guns.

“We’re seeing gang activity taking advantage of the situation we were all in during the pandemic and the rush to get money out to people who needed it. There was a lot of fraud,” Levy said. “We are seeing this happen in this violent-crime sector that people were taking advantage of the loopholes and the fog of war, if you will, to pump through a lot of fraudulent applications.”

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