FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 23, 2004
Schumer And District Attorney Donovan Unveil New Plan To Give Staten Island Tough New Tools To Fight Gangs
Schumer praises Donovan for securing convictions of Latin Kings members in 2001 Rosebank killing of fellow gang member
New Bipartisan legislation sets up $463 million in Federal funding to fight gangs and lets prosecutors go for death penalty in gang crimes without tying up resources in a RICO case
Schumer bill also includes $100 million to help localities like Staten Island
US Senator Charles E. Schumer today congratulated Staten Island District Attorney Daniel M,. Donovan Jr. For his recent convictions of Latin Kings members involved in a 2001 Rosebank killing of a fellow gang member, and unveiled sweeping bipartisan legislation to give prosecutors tough new tools to go after gang activity on Staten Island and across New York City. The legislation, which is expected to move quickly because it has the support of Senate Judiciary Chairman Hatch, also would send $100 million to help localities like Staten Island provide witness protection and combat violent gang crime.
"It's not something we like to highlight, but there is gang activity on Staten Island and it is a threat to public safety and quality of life," Schumer said. "Local, state and federal officials have had great results breaking up gangs and locking up their members, but they could use more help from the Federal government. This law gives them tough new options to throw the book at gang members – it even makes it easier for them to pursue the death penalty when that's the right thing to do. And especially important, it will send badly-needed money to cities and counties for witness protection, something Staten Island has needed for a long time."
"I want to thank Senator Schumer for taking the lead nationally on this issue, and for recognizing the great need that state and local prosecutors have for funds for witness protection. We cannot successfully prosecute criminals unless courageous members of our community come forward. The $100 million dollars this legislation provides to state and local prosecutors will go along way to combat violent crime and to ensure the safety of our witnesses," District Attorney Donovan said.
Schumer today praised Donovan for his office's recent work securing convictions for the gang members who killed Latin Kings gang member Jose Santiago in Rosebank in 2001. On February 10, Latin Kings gang member Miguel Ziegler was sentenced to up to four years in prison for playing a key role in the attempted cover-up of the gang-related slaying. Zeigler had previously pleaded guilty in state Supreme Court to hindering prosecution – the highest charge against him – in connection with the 2001 killing. In January, Wilfredo Arroyo, 23, who also lived in Clifton and was also a member of the Latin Kings, was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the Santiago case. The Staten Island District Attorney's office successfully argued that Arroyo killed Santiago because he had broken gang code and disrespected a fellow gang member. Santiago had agreed to a three-minute beat-down as punishments, but Arroyo stabbed and killed him and Ziegler wiped the blood from the knife and hid it in a hallway wall of a Bay Street building in his neighborhood.
The Criminal Street Gang Abatement Act that Schumer is co-sponsoring with Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and 5 other Senate Republicans will let prosecutors create new federal offenses to let prosecutors go after street gangs, strengthen existing penalties against gangs, and let more prosecutors try juveniles who commit serious violent crimes as adults. The Act also lets prosecutors use the death penalty against gang members without having to use the RICO Act, which ties up valuable law enforcement resources. Specifically Schumer's Criminal Street Gang Abatement Act will:
• Make gang recruitment a new crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail. The Act will also instate a mandatory minimum 3 year sentence in jail if you try to recruit a minor under the age of 18,which will reduce gang recruitment in high schools. • Make committing 2 gang street crimes punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The Act creates a new federal crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison to participate in a criminal street gang by committing two or more "predicate gang crimes" – crimes that help the gang or are initiation rites to get into the gang. The Act also makes it a crime to help a gang or gang members commit a crime. • Give the death penalty or life imprisonment to gang members who commit murder – saving prosecutors from having to use more complicated RICO laws to get these harsher penalties. Long Island law enforcement officials were nationwide pioneers in using the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute to go after street gangs, which they have done with a great deal of success. RICO prosecutions are difficult and time consuming, which takes away valuable law enforcement resources that could be used to prosecute other crimes. Under this Act, if defendant participating in a street crime commits murder, they are eligible for life imprisonment or the death penalty without having to resort to RICO. • Make it easier for prosecutors to treat 16-year-olds as adults if they commit serious violent offenses like murder, manslaughter, carjacking, or armed robbery. The Act makes it easier for a prosecutors to charge minors 16 and older as adults in federal courts after a hearing and an assessment of the circumstances. Schumer noted that judges will review cases to ensure that is in the interest of justice to charge a juvenile as an adult. Schumer noted that judges will only make this assessment after they have considered the age of the defendant, the nature of the offense and whether it is a serious violent crime, the juvenile's criminal record, the juvenile's intellectual development and his response to prior treatment, and the availability of any programs in federal and state courts to help him in making this decision. • Require that gang members be given separate consecutive sentences anytime they are convicted of both being in a gang and committing violence as part of the gang. Under this act, for example, a criminal who is selling drugs for a gang and shoots someone in the process will now be given consecutive sentences for both the shooting and the gang-related drug sale. The Criminal Street Gang Abatement Act will also create $463 million in federal funding programs to fight gang violence because it will: • Provide $20 million a year for 5 years (for a total of $100 million) for local witness protection programs and for grants to state and local prosecutors to combat violent crime. • Designate "High Intensity Interstate Gang Activity Areas" and authorizes $60 million a year for them for 5years (for a total of $300 million). Based on the Federal Drug Czar's "High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas" program run by the Drug Czar's office, the Act allows the US Attorney General to designate certain areas as high gang areas, to create local task forces and to send other federal money and resources to fight a gang problem in that area. It automatically calls for the creation of Gang Task Forces in these areas to include agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Marshals Service, Department of Homeland Security and state and local law enforcement. • Hire 94 New Federal Prosecutors at a cost of $7.5 million year for them for 5 years (for a total of $37.5 million) to Expand the Justice Department's Project Safe Neighborhoods Program, which is being used by the U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern District to aggressively fight gun and gang related crimes. • Provide $5 million a year for 5 years (for a total of $25 million) for the FBI's "Safe Streets Program" which is used to fight gangs and related street gangs. These funds will pay for new FBI agents and the resources needed to support them. Schumer noted that the Act's chances of passing are strong because of its bipartisan support from members of the Judiciary Committee, and Schumer said that Long Island is likely to get significant support because the new federal funds will focus on areas like Long Island with gang problems.
Schumer said that the Act also authorizes an additional, separate $40 million a year (for a total of $200 million) for programs that help young people stay out of gangs including community-based programs to provide crime prevention, research, and intervention services for gang member and at-risk youth in high-risk areas. The Act also directs the US Sentencing Commission to increase penalties for gang-related crimes. "No Staten Islander should have to live in fear of gang violence – not one. The US Attorneys and the FBI are already doing everything they can to work hand-in-glove with the D.A.s and the NYPD to eradicate gang violence on Staten Island, then this new law would give them even more power and authority both to prevent gang violence and to punish it," Schumer said.