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Police Bust 19 Gang Members In East Harlem Drug Op

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Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. was joined by law enforcement officials Thursday to announce the indictments of 19 East Harlem gang members who are accused of running a "open air" drug market. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.

Police say two drug-dealing gangs operating out of the Wagner Houses either didn't realize they were being watched on NYPD cameras or just didn't care.

Now, 19 alleged members of the "20 BLOCC" and "Flow Boyz" gangs are off the street.

"The lead investigator was able, as I said earlier, to pour over hours and hours of videotape and from that point on, was able to identify the hierarchy of the two drug organizations' members," said Chief Anthony Izzo of the NYPD Crime Control Unit. "That intelligence was passed off to undercover officers who were able, painstakingly, to infiltrate the groups."

The NYPD and Manhattan DA's office said the gangs sold drugs in the Wagner Houses and across the street at the Taino Towers for at least three years, sometimes right in front of residents. They're accused of cooking crack in an apartment and selling drugs to undercover cops.

"What I think you're trying to do is to build a case that has impact, so that when the indictment is dropped, the case is as strong as it can be," said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. "And that therefore, the impact of the indictments and the potential sentences that are involved are as appropriately high as they can be. If you just pick off of a buy and bust, you achieve something but you don't take out the gang."

Housing authority officials have taken a lot of heat because of high-profile shootings in public housing this summer. New York City Housing Authority chair John Rhea said NYCHA is working with the police to put criminals away, as in this case.

"More than half of them are public housing residents," he said. "So our goal is not only that they are busted but removed from public housing, making the community safer long-term."

Residents at the Wagner Houses understandably didn't want to go on camera talking about gang members being arrested. But they did say they're happy to hear it happened.

The Manhattan DA said he'll be at the Wagner Houses on Monday to talk to residents about Thursday's bust and other crime-fighting strategies.

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