More than 60 members of the Latin Kings have been arrested on federal racketeering, drug and firearms charges, including the leaders of the street gang’s East Coast operations, authorities announced Thursday.
Among those arrested is Michael Cecchetelli, a 40-year-old Springfield, Massachusetts resident with ties to the Genovese crime family who oversaw the gang’s operations from Massachusetts down to Florida, according to Joseph Bonavolonta, head of the FBI's Boston office.
Authorities said Cecchetelli and other gang leaders ran the gang with a Mafia-style hierarchy, with a council of leaders and as many as 11 chapters across Massachusetts alone. They say the leadership approach has become a model for other Latin Kings regions in the country.
The Latin Kings have also grown to become the largest gang in Massachusetts prisons, with an estimated 400 members, including leaders who face charges for continuing to coordinate criminal activity outside the prison, authorities said.
“It’s a big hit precisely because we are able to take out all of the leadership,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling of the five-year investigation by the FBI and the state Department of Correction dubbed “Operation Throne Down.” "It will be extremely difficult for the gang to regroup in the region.”
A lawyer who represented Cecchetelli in a prior federal case didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
The majority of Thursday morning’s arrests took place across Massachusetts, but some gang members and associates were also arrested in Rhode Island and Connecticut, Bonavolonta said. The gang’s operations also stretched into New York, New Jersey and Maryland.
There were 54 people apprehended Thursday, of which nine were already in custody and eight others are still being sought in an predawn raid that included more than 500 law enforcement officers, he said.
Most face federal racketeering charges for allegedly trafficking drugs, laundering money and committing assaults, robberies and other violent crimes and conspiring to commit more than ten murders. Others face gun possession charges.
Authorities also seized dozens of firearms, thousands of dollars worth of cash, drugs and vehicles and three properties in the crackdown.
Bonavolonta said the gang distributed drugs and shot music videos boasting about their exploits from the New Bedford, Massachusetts, properties while the property owner helped launder money and conceal their operations.
Bonavolonta said the multi-year investigation involved an informant who infiltrated the gang’s high level meetings.
He also said Thursday’s indictment includes a former Boston high school dean already serving a prison sentence for shooting a student he’d recruited to deal drugs in the school.
Authorities say Shaun Harrison was a full-fledged Latin Kings member who continued his gang activity behind bars, helping the gang try to identify police informants. His lawyer from his prior criminal case didn't respond to a call seeking comment Thursday.
The Almighty Latin Kings and Queen Nation is considered the oldest and largest predominantly Latino street gang in the country, tracing its roots to the 1960s in Chicago, where authorities say it is still headquartered.
This story has been updated to correct the number of arrests to more than 60, instead of more than 90.
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