By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
The Amsterdam Police Department has just completed, what Amsterdam Police Chief Gregory Culick called, the largest gang investigation for the city.
In addition, police say they've broken down the Latin Kings gang presence in the city, an organization, the chief said, is associated with various acts of violence from throughout the year.
"This was one of a kind," Culick said Thursday. "We never did such a large gang investigation where we called in the feds and asked for other agencies, other jurisdictions, that were investigating their own nexus populations."
In November, the department announced that it had made 12 arrests linked to drug and gang activity within the city of Amsterdam.
The arrests, police said at the time, came after a five-month-long investigation.
Thursday, nearly two months after the initial arrests were made, police nabbed their 22nd and final arrest.
John Kerr, 23, of 346 Division St., was arrested and charged with sixth-degree conspiracy, a class B misdemeanor.
Wednesday, police arrested Eric Sumpter, 19, of 13 Trinity Place, and Ryan Bergh, 19, of 15 Arnold Ave., and charged them both with sixth-degree conspiracy, as well.
And on Jan. 2, police arrested Nina Gonzalez, 23, of 232 Locust Ave., and charged her, too, with conspiracy.
"Conspiracy is, basically in laymen's terms, when someone has intent that conduct that is going to be a crime is performed and that he or she agrees with one of more persons to engage in that performance," explained Amsterdam Police Det. Lt. Kurt Conroy.
Conroy said that all of the conspiracy arrests were drug-related.
"They stem from the engaging in illegal drug-activity, the purchasing and distribution of marijuana and narcotics," the detective said.
Although all of the 22 arrests were related to the gang investigation, Culick said some of the charged individuals are not gang members, rather "gang associates" as they were buying from the gang.
"In effort, their actions were unfortunately keeping these gangs alive," he explained.
Conroy couldn't give specifics on how the department identified and nabbed the 22 individuals, but he could say they used "special techniques" to do so.
The investigation began after the department learned that random slashings and slayings in the city were related to gang initiations, Culick said.
"We realized that yeah, we're starting to get a problem here, we're starting to develop a gang problem," the chief said. "And once we identified the source, the Latin King gang, we went to the feds."
The department took a proactive stance on the investigation of the gang activity, Culick said, and they looked exclusively into the Latin King population.
"We know they were involved in the drug dealing," he said, adding that they also found out that the gang was involved in the shooting on James Street in September and associated with a shooting on Union Street in August.
Culick said that even Amsterdam man Ivan Ramos, who was convicted in October of burglary related to home invasions, was loosely associated with the Latin Kings.
"He would get information from them (Latin Kings), about who had drugs in their house ... that was his primary thing for going in there. He was going to try to steal drugs back that the drug nexus sold to them or supplied to them or dropped off to those homes," Culick said. "This was getting crazy."
Ramos has also been charged in a double homicide that took place in March 2012 in a Locust Street apartment. It's unknown whether the fatal stabbings were gang-related, although police have said the deaths involved drugs.
The incidents of violence, big and small, throughout the year were a red flag for the department.
But now, with the net of 22 arrests related to the same drug sale operation, Culick is confident that the department "put a big crimp" on this type of activity in the city.
"There's always going to be gang want-to-be kids in every city and there's going to be some gang members from other cities that just settle here," Culick said. "People always have pasts, but every time were hear and our intelligence tells us that there's a formation going, we're going to form the same kind of a task force and we're going to break it up.
"We're absolutely not going to be a gang city for that reason because we are going to stay right on top of it."
Finished with serving the arrest warrants, which were all signed by Judge Howard Aison of Amsterdam City Court, Conroy said it's good to have some closure to the case.
However, the process is far from over.
The department will now assist the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office in prosecuting the case.
And with a little bit of time freed, Conroy said the department can focus more on the investigations they've had going and start new ones.
"Now that this case is over and all the arrests have been made, we can certainly move our assets somewhere else and our man power to other things," he said.
And the funding for those investigations will come from the money seized from this investigation and the investigations from the past.
"We're a small enough city, I think, where we can keep an eye on it, where we can keep control of it," Culick said, referring to gang and drug activity.
Conroy said that in the end it's the department sending a message, "that if you're dealing drugs in Amsterdam, most of the time, we're going to find out about it.
"You might get away with it for a while; you might slip through the cracks," he added, "but eventually it's a small enough community that we're going to hear about it and we're going to pursue it aggressively."
The chief encourages the public to continue to give the department tips, as they don't go unheard.
"We just won't stop."