York City's police chief says another gang will be subject of federal probe
Members of York City’s Parkway, Westside and other gangs might have breathed a collective sigh of relief when city and federal investigators bypassed them and went after the Southside gang in a massive two-year racketeering and drug-dealing investigation that culminated in 12 convictions and eight guilty pleas.
But they should be holding their collective breath because their gang could be the next criminal organization in law enforcement’s crosshairs, according to York City Police Chief Wes Kahley.
“There will be another group targeted. ... We’re looking at what’s taking place (on the streets) right now,” he said. “We have a lot of choices. Maybe we go after another round of Southsiders.”
The decision will be based on which street gang is currently responsible for the most violence in York City, Kahley said.
“Everything we do right now is to fight violence. That’s the No.1 goal — stopping the violence,” he said. “And we know there are gangs still out there heavily involved in drug trafficking and violence, especially in the east end.”
Federal partners: Kahley said the city police department has a commitment of ongoing cooperation and collaboration from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
And U.S. Attorney Peter Smith, based in Harrisburg, said at a press conference last month that his office has ramped up efforts to combat gang violence in four cities: York, Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre and Williamsport. Those cities were identified as being most in need of anti-violence solutions, according to Smith, who said federal authorities also will partner with local police to battle the heroin trade.
“We look at every gun arrest we make, every drug arrest we make,” to see if the case can be prosecuted federally, Kahley said, in part because federal sentences tend to be longer than state sentences.
‘All about profit’: Kahley said the city’s gangs sell heroin, cocaine and marijuana and use violence to defend their turf because there’s so much money to be made.
“This is all about profit,” he sa
id. “Their own family members know what they’re engaged in, but everyone wants to turn a blind eye.”
And the investigation into Southside showed just how much money is at stake, according to York City Detective First Class Andrew Shaffer.
One of the convicted leaders of Southside was driving a $110,000 Porsche when he was arrested, but had no legitimate job, Shaffer said.
Southsiders used drug-trafficking proceeds to take trips around the country, including to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, to all-star NBA basketball games, and to various vacation destinations such as Miami, according to the detective.
“They were living the high life,” Shaffer said. “Wherever they wanted to go, whatever they wanted to do, they had the cash and the means to do it.”
Bags of cash: When local and federal authorities raided nine of Southside’s stash houses in September 2014, they found and seized “duffel bags full of cash,” jewelry including a
$50,000 gold necklace and a $97,000 Rolex watch, and a number of stolen guns hidden in wall safes and behind trap doors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Consiglio told jurors during his closing argument at the Southside trial last month.
All that loot is being stored as trial evidence. Zero-tolerance forfeiture laws give the government the right to keep all those drug proceeds.
“Some people it comes crashing down on,” Shaffer said. “And when it crashes down on you in the federal system, it crashes hard.”
Shaffer and fellow city narcotics detectives Scott Nadzom and Bart Seelig devoted themselves to the investigation for more than two years, Kahley said, as did the nuisance-abatement unit, comprised of Sgt. Bill Wentz and Officers Zachary Pelton and Stephen Aderhold. City Officer Tim Shermeyer was critical in compiling mounds of information about Southside, the chief said, and most city officers participated in some way.
“One week (of trial), we had 50 different officers up there testifying,” Kahley said.
‘So much gunfire’: Shaffer called the convictions a “huge win for the people who live in those communities” where Southside is established. “It wasn’t just the drug dealing. There was so much violence — so many shootings and homicides, so much gunfire back and forth.”
Kahley said retaliatory gang violence is often disproportionate to its supposed cause.
A lot of the violence is triggered by very minor things,” he said. “Anything can set them off. It can start with something as simple as, ‘You looked at me wrong.’”
When officers have asked Parkway and Southside members why they’re at war, many of them have no idea, according to Kahley.
“They say, ‘We were told we don’t like them, so we shoot at each other,’” he said. “They don’t even know why they’re shooting at each other. It’s absurd.”
Swarm attacks: Consiglio told The York Dispatch that Southsiders “were willing to go to great lengths to obstruct the criminal-justice system and to mete out their own brand of justice outside the system.”
He spoke about how gangs engage in “swarm activity,” in which a large number of members will attack a person at once and cause a mele.
“Who (knows who) pulled the trigger out of a group of 10 or 15 assailants?” he asked.
Kahley said a very small number of people commit most violent street crimes — so small, in fact, that when one is released from prison officers know to expect trouble.
“We can set our watches by them,” the chief said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org.