WOONSOCKET — The city was proclaimed a safer place to live yesterday as state, local and federal law enforcement authorities announced the results of a two-year probe of gun violence and drugs prompted, in part, by the 2008 shooting death of teenager Brandon Smith.
Operating undercover, members of an interagency task force purchased 37 firearms, including an AK-47 assault rifle and four weapons stolen in home burglaries during the course of the investigation. They also arrested 18 people, most on federal charges, and seized a smorgasbord of narcotics, from crack cocaine to LSD.
The details were disclosed for the first time during an affair at River Island Park that was part press briefing, part celebration. After divulging the fruits of the probe, citations were issued to the task force — some two dozen members from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Woonsocket Police Department, the Attorney
General's Office, the Bristol County Sheriffs Office, the Burrillville Police Department and the Rhode Island National Guard.
“What you see before you is a united front against crime in Woonsocket and the state of Rhode Island,” said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. “This is a perfect example of how it works.”
The details of the probe were announced jointly by U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha; Guy N. Thomas, special agent in charge of the ATF Boston Field Office; Woonsocket Police Chief Thomas Carey and Kilmartin.
Neronha credited Chief Carey with initiating discussions that led to the creation of the task force. Carey, he said, was interested in a developing a proactive strategy to combat gun violence and narcotics after the killing of Smith, a 17-year-old shot to death on the doorstep of his Robinson Street home in June 2008.
A veteran of the St. Petersburg, Fla., police department, Carey was hired three months after Smith's killing. After Carey spent a month on the job, Robert Smith, 22 was shot to death in his third-floor apartment on Diamond Hill Road while his wife and infant daughter were in the house.
Thanks to the probe, investigators are now able to say those murders were the result of rivalries between armed crews of drug dealers. While those crimes remain unsolved, officials portrayed the probe that gelled around them as a major success.
“In my judgment there's been a lot of progress made,” said Neronha. “Law enforcement knows who is causing trouble in the streets, so you focus on the worst of the worst. By taking the worst of the worst out of our city's neighborhoods, you hope to bring down the level of gun violence.”
Carey said he began “exploring partnerships” with other law enforcement agencies after the homicides because he was concerned that the gun-related violence would escalate. What was needed, he thought, was a preemptive strike against targets where problems were likely to arise.
“There's guns everywhere,” said Carey. “We've seen violence in other communities and certainly that's the last thing we want here in Woonsocket. That's why we started on this proactive investigation so we didn't have some of the violence that other communities were facing.”
Carey seemed philosophical, but pleased, about the results of the probe.
“It's really hard to measure what overall impact you might have or what crimes you prevent but clearly getting the guns off the street prevents crime,” he said.
Were it not for the efforts of the task force, the guns they confiscated over the course of two years would have surely been used to commit other crimes, said Special Agent Thomas.
“Guns, drugs and violence plague cities across the country,” he said. “Because of the dedicated efforts of many the city of Woonsocket is a safer place today.”
Most of the guns corralled by the task force were seized within the city, said Detective Commander Edward J. Lee Jr. of the Woonsocket police.
Carey praised Lisa Carcifero and the organization she heads up, the Woonsocket Prevention Coalition, as vital partners in the war on crime. The local agency, said Carey, has been a source of important grant funding to underwrite the police department's mission, including the establishment of a tip line, 769-4444, for residents to phone in information about criminal activity anonymously.
Mayor Leo T. Fontaine said the message of yesterday's press conference is that the city is closed for business to those who deal in guns and drugs.
“To all these people who continue to infiltrate our community and wreak havoc among the citizens, you're not welcome here,” Fontaine said. “Get out of our city.”
The joint probe initially focused on “a city-based crew” which had allegedly committed a number of home invasions, the officials said. That effort led to the arrest and conviction of three Woonsocket men, Julio Candelario, 31, Robert Beauparlant, Jr., 27, and Pedro Cuadrado, 22, in connection with a Providence home-invasion and drug heist. Originally indicted over two years ago, they were all sentenced earlier this year to federal prison terms ranging from 111 to 180 months.
The names of a dozen other defendants arrested as a result of the probe were also released yesterday. The charges against them include dealing firearms without a license, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a sawed-off shotgun, possession of body armor by a convicted felon and distribution of cocaine.
The defendants were identified as Woonsocket residents Marquis Brewster, 26; Tammy Cardinal-Ghannam, 46; Marcus Lee Mobley, 42; Mario L. Curet, 35; Kyle S. Minot, 21; Felix Nieves, 42; James Q. Perry, 47; Lisa M. Winston, 42; Manuel Sanchez-Cruz; and Aaron M. Swan, 23. Also arrested were Anthony Otero, 39, of the Bronx, N.Y., and Rickey L. Stevenson, 20, of Pawtucket.
Also, Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the state assumed jurisdiction over two cases involving Jose Sencion, 23, of Woonsocket, and Jorge Montanez, also 23, of Webster, Mass. Sencion was convicted of carrying an unlicensed pistol and sentenced to five years in prison, with one to serve, on March 2.
Charges of selling rifles and shotguns against Montanez are pending.
As for murder victims Smith and Jones, the police say they have identified suspects in both cases and are actively pursuing good leads.