Yonkers Gang Defendant Sentenced In Manhattan Federal Court To 188 Months In Prison After Perjuring Himself At The Trial Of A Rival Gang Member
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that JOSE CRUZ, a/k/a “Chili,” a member of the violent Yonkers street gang known as the “Strip Boyz,” was sentenced yesterday in Manhattan federal court to 188 months of imprisonment by United States District Judge Edgardo Ramos.
In May 2013, CRUZ pled guilty to participating in the Strip Boyz narcotics conspiracy. One month later, in June 2013, CRUZ testified at the trial of Steven Knowles, the leader of a rival gang known as the “Elm Street Wolves.” At that trial, which was held before United States District Judge Kenneth M. Karas, CRUZ denied conducting crack sales with the Strip Boyz. He also retracted prior statements he had made to Yonkers Police Department officers after he was shot multiple times in April 2010 – statements that supported the Government’s evidence that Knowles was his shooter.
Although the jury convicted Knowles of the majority of counts against him, including the murder of another Strip Boyz member, Knowles was found not guilty of the attempted murder of CRUZ. At yesterday’s sentencing, Judge Ramos found that CRUZ’s testimony about his crack sales at Knowles’s trial was false and an obstruction of justice. In summary, Judge Ramos stated: “Make no mistake, Mr. Cruz. You substantially increased the amount of time you will spend in prison by your decision to testify falsely” at Knowles’s trial.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated: “If there was ever any doubt that lying under oath was a foolish and costly decision, then Jose Cruz joins the long list of incarcerated defendants who should dispel that doubt. It may be a peculiar badge of honor among gangs to perjure yourself, but in the end you will lie your way into being locked up.”
According to the statements made at sentencing and documents filed in the case:
The case arises out of an investigation, which began in 2010 by the United States Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Yonkers Police Department, of narcotics trafficking and gang violence in a part of southwest Yonkers known as Nodine Hill. The Strip Boyz, in particular, was a street gang operating in and around Yonkers between 2000 and June 2012. The Strip Boyz and their affiliates sold crack cocaine and marijuana in and around the Schlobohm Housing Project on Schroeder Street—a major hub of Yonkers crack distribution.
They would, among other things, prohibit outsiders from selling drugs in their territory, share crack sales so that multiple members of the Organization could profit from a particular sale, package and store drugs together in common spaces, use shared suppliers as the source for their narcotics, and alert each other to the presence of nearby law enforcement. During that same time period, members and associates of the Strip Boyz – including JOSE CRUZ – sold thousands of grams of crack cocaine and marijuana. Certain members of the Strip Boyz – again, including CRUZ – also maintained firearms for use by members and associates of the Strip Boyz. Members of the Strip Boyz would often pool their money to purchase firearms, which would then be stored in hidden but easily accessible locations known only to members. When a firearm was needed to protect the Strip Boyz’s territory from encroachment by a rival gang, such as the Elm Street Wolves, one member of the Strip Boyz could utilize the firearms maintained by other members of the gang.
In August 2011, 66 Yonkers gang members – including 47 members and associates of the Elm Street Wolves – were arrested and charged with narcotics, firearm, robbery and murder offenses. The Elm Street Wolves were a violent street gang that operated on and around Elm Street and Oak Street, just minutes from the Scholobohm Housing Project, and a chief rival to the Strip Boyz. To date, all defendants in that case have been convicted, and the majority has been sentenced to between 10 and 17 years of imprisonment. This includes Knowles, the leader of the Elm Street Wolves, who was convicted in July 2013 of various racketeering charges, murder, conspiracy to murder, attempted murder, narcotics conspiracy, and firearms offenses following a four-week jury trial before Judge Karas in White Plains. Knowles, who faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison plus 35 years, is set to be sentenced on May 29, 2014.
In June 2012, 23 Yonkers gang members – including 20 members and associates of the Strip Boyz – were arrested and charged with narcotics trafficking and firearm offenses. To date, all defendants in that case have also been convicted, most of whom await sentencing. This includes CRUZ, who pled guilty on May 7, 2013, before Judge Ramos to conspiring to sell crack cocaine in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 846. During his plea, CRUZ admitted, among other things, to conspiring to distribute crack cocaine with others in the Schlobohm Housing Project. Based on his original plea agreement with the Government, which included both an enhancement for CRUZ’s usage of firearms in furtherance of his crack sales and a reduction for his timely acceptance of responsibility, CRUZ faced an advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) range of 108 to 135 months of imprisonment. The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
At yesterday’s sentencing, Judge Ramos found that CRUZ willfully and knowingly committed perjury by lying, under oath, at Knowles’s trial by denying that he sold crack cocaine with the Strip Boyz. As such, Judge Ramos applied a Guidelines enhancement for CRUZ’s obstruction of justice. Judge Ramos also found that CRUZ was not entitled to a Guidelines reduction for acceptance of responsibility, holding that his testimony demonstrated that he did not satisfactorily accept responsibility for the crime – conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine with others – which he was convicted of. Judge Ramos calculated CRUZ’s advisory Guidelines range, as modified after his false testimony, as 188 to 235 months of imprisonment. Judge Ramos then imposed a sentence of 188 months of imprisonment, at the low-end of the Guidelines range. In so doing, Judge Ramos made clear that CRUZ’s sentenced was significantly increased because of his decision to lie on the witness stand on behalf of Knowles.
This case is being prosecuted by the White Plains Office and the Violent Crimes Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Ilan Graff and Andrew Bauer are in charge of the prosecution.