Facebook stupidity leads to largest gang bust in NYC history

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Law & order

Image of Facebook style gun courtesy of ShutterstockKids can be street-smart and Facebook-stupid, to paraphrase how Vice News put it.

Police love that naive, completely misplaced trust in the supposed anonymity of social media postings.

In fact, it was a long trail of quite helpful Facebook postings about crimes that lead New York City police to what authorities are calling "the largest gang takedown in New York City's history".

After a 4-year-long investigation by the New York Police Department (NYPD), 103 gang members were indicted on Wednesday, thanks mostly to the evidence teenagers left on their Facebook profiles.

Five hundred NYPD officers descended on two housing projects in the NYC neighborhood of West Harlem Wednesday morning to arrest 40 of those who were indicted.

Police told reporters that 23 more alleged gang members are still being sought, while the rest were apprehended prior to the Wednesday bust.

Most of those arrested are between 15 and 20 years old, while some were as old as 30.

Prosecutors say the boys and men belong to three gangs: the two allied gangs of Make It Happen Boys and Money Avenue, and their rivals, 3 Staccs.

The gangs have waged war over the past four years, with the carnage now resulting in accusations of two homicides, 19 non-fatal shootings and about 50 other shooting incidents, according to a press release put out by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.

According to the indictments (which can be read here and here), the gang members fought tooth and nail to control their territory - the two housing projects are only a block away from each other - and to climb the gangster hierarchy via shootings, stabbings, slashings, assaults, gang assaults, robberies, revenge shootings, and murders.

They were also busy chronicling it all via social media, posting hundreds of Facebook updates, direct messages, mobile phone videos, and calls made from Rikers Correctional Facility to plot the deaths of rival gang members.

They used postings to publicise and claim credit for - and to rub their enemies' noses in - their crimes, prosecutors say.

One of the gangs's victims - 18 year-old Tayshana "Chicken" Murphy - was a promising basketball star. Her father has said that she was being recruited by several colleges.

Ms. Murphy was gunned down in her building in September 2011. One of the gang members allegedly bragged about it on Facebook.

A second victim, Walter "Recc" Sumter, who owned the gun used to kill Ms. Murphy, was murdered that December in apparent retaliation.

Prosecutors say that two days after the death of Ms. Murphy, alleged gang member Davon "Hef" Golbourne wrote to a 3Staccs rival that they had "fried the chicken."

The rival, Brian "Pumpa" Rivera, replied "NOW IMAAA KILL YUHH."

In fact, investigators pored over more than 40,000 phone calls between gang members already in jail and those on the outside, hundreds of hours of surveillance video, and "more than a million social media pages," Vance said in his statement.

According to Vice News, the word "Facebook" shows up 162 times in one of the indictments and 171 in the second.

Rev. Vernon Williams, a Harlem pastor who has spent years trying to curb youth violence in the neighborhood and who personally knows many of the indicted teens, told Vice News that they're not the brightest bulbs on the tree when it comes to social media:

They are Facebook dummies.

Because the stuff that they were saying, that was gonna come back to bite them, especially admitting participating in crimes, admitting getting the weapons that were gonna be used in crimes, and then calling someone in a state prison and giving them a report of what they did.

But while the kids were undeniably stupid about Facebook, Williams also criticised the law for letting this battle wage for so long instead of stepping in earlier:

The indictment is almost 200 pages long and I would say 75-80 percent of [one of the indictments] is Facebook posts and similar activity.

The DAs office was helped by the accused. All [the police] did was watch and document it. I don’t know what took them so long, but once they had enough, they scooped them up.

That is a very good question. Why did police need four years to round these guys up when they had alleged criminals posting about it on social media?

Stupidity about social media is a gift to investigators. One would hope that the gift gets turned into protection for the community as fast as practicable.

Image of Facebook gun courtesy of Shutterstock.

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21 Responses to Facebook stupidity leads to largest gang bust in NYC history

  1. Sammie · 49 days ago

    Time to make more 'idiot friendly' devices, the ones which say "are you sure?" when the owner posts something stupid before self destructing itself when the smart owner posts it no matter what. I guess it pays to go to school to learn a few things as opposed to being in a gang and be stupid. Hope they get the liberty to tweet from their cells.

    • goat · 48 days ago

      You think devices should be more "idiot friendly" so people like this can escape prosecution for their crimes? Or, more accurately, you really think that a confirmation will get them to realize the stupidity of their actions?

    • I don't think the way this idiots were caught should have been publicized. It could start the criminals to wise up and stop being so stupid.

      The media goes way too far in some of their reporting. In a way; they are helping to educate criminals on ways to avoid getting caught.

      • Lisa Vaas · 46 days ago

        Neither kids nor criminals of this sort tend to read newspapers or infosec blogs. If they were inclined to actually get educated, we wouldn't find ourselves writing stories like this as often as we do.

  2. Anonymous · 49 days ago

    Maybe law enforcement was waiting to see if they'd just kill each other and the problem would just go away.....

    • Lisa Vaas · 49 days ago

      I assume, and hope, that that's not true. Innocent people aren't exempt from these violent crimes, including Ms. Murphy.

    • Jim · 48 days ago

      More likely they wanted to be sure of a conviction. While FB posts help the authorities, they're usually not sufficient for a conviction, by themselves.

  3. John · 49 days ago

    Stupid is as stupid does. In this instance I am glad these idiots were so stupid. Now they can spend some quality time in the state pen.

  4. Doug · 49 days ago

    More likely they were waiting to get the higher level members. Taking out a bunch of the low level guys, although helpful, wouldn't truly shut down the gangs. Now they've likely made a huge dent into these gangs that could cripple the activities of those gangs. And possibly clean up the area for a much longer period overall making it safer in the long run.

  5. Anonymous · 49 days ago

    I Agree it should have NOT took NYCP 4 years to take this people down so as we know they to maybe face charges for the lives that was taking when they could have made a statement by moving in much earlier I am sure we will hear about it they almost cause most of this lives to be lost Just want to end with say my prayers is with the family of the ones we lost for no reason

    II

  6. LindaB · 48 days ago

    Interesting story, but for the benefit of us non-USA residents just how far is a 'block'. It's not a known internationally recognised measurement of distance. So is it a few yards, a couple of hundred yards, a mile, ten miles, or what?

    • Cheroot · 48 days ago

      I believe there are 12 to 16 blocks in a mile.

      • Mike B · 48 days ago

        On the main rectangular street-grid of Manhattan, which is more or less the main central part, say from about Houston St, (which you can think of as "First" St.) up to maybe the 160's, the standard used to be 20 blocks/mile north-south (i.e., along the Avenues) and 8 per mile east-west along the numbered streets. While there are "in-between" and non-grid major streets in midtown (Broadway is the best-known example of the latter), the grid is pretty well defined until you get down past Houston or way up to the northern end.

      • Anonymous · 48 days ago

        ah thanks. what's a mile?

    • Anonymous · 48 days ago

      Not sure how much this will help, but if you want more information than anyone probably needs, you can look at this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_block

      As you can see, the short answer is, "it depends."

    • G-Man · 48 days ago

      A block is about 1/7th of a mile in NYC. The size of a block can vary from city to city. In Las Vegas some blocks could be over mile long.

  7. This is great; however, I feel that there is too much reporting on how criminals are being caught. In my opinion, what the publicity does, is make the criminals aware of their stupidity and they become more aware of how to hide their crimes. That's my opinion and you are welcome to yours.

    • Jake · 46 days ago

      Bit hard to imagine that anyone dumb enough to post "i dun a crime" on Facebook is also reading NakedSecurity for advice on avoiding arrest, but i kind of agree with your point

  8. Emmanuel Goldstein Jr · 43 days ago

    Maybe Facebook is actually good for something after all...besides giving everyone who uses it the right to give away every last vestige and pretence of privacy that hasn't already been taken away by the CIA, FBI & NSA...

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.