Wednesday, January 28, 2009

NY hate crime suspects face new charges


FARMINGDALE, N.Y. - Seven teenagers, already accused in the racially motivated stabbing death of an Ecuadorean immigrant, were charged in a new indictment Wednesday with taking part in attacks on eight other Hispanics over 14 months.

The November killing of Marcelo Lucero has attracted international attention and prompted a U.S. Justice Department investigation of hate crime allegations on eastern Long Island.

At a community meeting in December, other victims came forward to tell their stories. Those details led to some of the charges filed Wednesday. Victims were knocked off bicycles; punched in laundromats; and attacked while walking down the street, prosecutors said.

The teens reportedly have told authorities that targeting Hispanics for abuse was a regular activity.

One of them, 17-year-old Anthony Hartford, told police, "I don't go out doing this very often, maybe once a week," according to Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.

The prosecutor said the attackers often uttered racial slurs like "beaners and wetbacks."

"All of the defendants participated in what we consider to be a violent and racially driven pastime," Spota said outside court. "Some of these victims were attacked by these individuals multiple times and on different dates."

Five of the Patchogue-Medford High School students pleaded not guilty Wednesday to assault, gang assault, attempted robbery and other crimes. The two others will be arraigned next week because their attorneys had scheduling conflicts.

All seven previously pleaded not guilty to hate crime and other charges related to the Nov. 8, 2008, killing of Lucero, a 37-year-old dry cleaning worker. The teen accused of plunging a knife into Lucero's chest on a Patchogue street is charged with murder as a hate crime.

Attorneys did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the latest charges, but have previously said their clients are innocent.

The incidents highlight the extraordinary tension that exists on Long Island between white residents and the booming Hispanic population. Immigrants say they are often harassed, but don't tell police because they fear they'll be deported. It is not clear what Lucero's immigration status was at the time he was killed.

Besides its probe of hate crimes, the Justice Department is reviewing whether to begin a formal investigation of how local police responded to bias incidents.

Animosity over the influx of thousands of immigrants from Central and South America has been simmering for nearly a decade.

Two local men are serving long prison terms for attempted murder after luring two Mexican laborers to a warehouse in 2000 with the promise of work, then beating them with shovels and landscaping tools. In 2003, a Mexican family's home in Farmingville _ about 15 miles from Patchogue _ was destroyed when teenagers tossed fireworks through a window on the Fourth of July.

More recently, advocates have claimed harsh anti-immigration rhetoric by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and others created an inflammatory climate. Levy adamantly rejected those allegations and said his views on immigration policy were never intended to provide even tacit approval for attacks on Hispanics.

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