(Reuters) - Dozens of members of the Latin Kings gang, one of the world’s largest criminal organizations, were arrested on Thursday in Massachusetts and along the East Coast on federal racketeering, gun and drug charges, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Some 62 gang members, including Michael Cecchetelli, a regional leader of the Latin Kings, were arrested by some 500 local, state and federal law enforcement agents who executed 31 search warrants at 24 locations, the United States Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts said in a statement.
The suspects face nine counts of racketeering, cocaine and fentanyl possession and distribution and firearm and ammunition possession by a felon. If convicted, they face decades in prison and possible fines of more than $1 million, depending on the offense.
The Justice Department described the Latin Kings, formed in Chicago in the 1960s, as one of the largest criminal organizations in the world. It “adhere to a national manifesto, employ an internal judiciary, and use a sophisticated system of communication” to maintain a criminal organization.
“The gang uses drug distribution to generate revenue, and is motivated by a desire to further its influence and to protect its turf from rival gangs,” the department said. “This has fostered a culture of institutional violence and secrecy.”
The arrests come after a four-year investigation into the gang’s involvement in drug trafficking and conspiracy to commit murder, robbery, violent crime and witness intimidation, the department said.
The Department of Justice alleged that Cecchetelli, known as “King Merlin,” is the regional leader of the gang, acting as a conduit between each of the eastern region states and the Latin Kings national leadership in Chicago.
“He developed a leadership approach to the gang which has become a model for other Latin Kings regions of the country,” the department said.
The arrests centered on chapters in Massachusetts and along the East Coast in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and in other states from Maryland to Florida.
Currently there are 11 Latin Kings Chapters operating in Massachusetts, including two in Boston and one each in New Bedford, Springfield within the department of corrections in Massachusetts.
Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell