Metro

48 charged in raid of violent Boston drug gang

Cash, weapons, cars seized in sweep that targeted group dating to ’80s

A swarm of local and federal law enforcement officials raided several locations across Boston early Thursday morning, charging 48 suspects tied to a violent street gang in one of the biggest sweeps the city has seen.

The arrests of the Columbia Point Dawgs members on gun and drug charges came after a two-year investigation targeting what US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz called “the largest, most violent and most feared organization in Boston.”

The investigation, which is outlined in six federal indictments, included the use of wiretaps, she said.

Advertisement

“It is one of, if not the largest, gang takedowns that we’ve seen in Boston — to arrest the most dangerous subjects out there,” Vincent Lisi, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, said during a morning news conference at the federal courthouse in South Boston.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“I truly believe what we did this morning makes Boston that much of a safer place to live,’’ he said.

At the news conference, authorities laid out some of the 31 guns that were confiscated in the investigation, and bundles of the $1.5 million in cash that was seized.

They showed photos of some of the alleged gang members brandishing weapons and said they confiscated 11 cars and placed liens on several homes they believed had been bought with drug trade proceeds.

By Thursday morning, 41 suspects had been arrested, while authorities were negotiating the surrender of some of the seven remaining fugitives throughout the day.

Advertisement

The suspects included several women, one of whom was a leader of a faction within the gang.

Those arrested appeared in federal court in three separate hearings Thursday afternoon to face a range of drug dealing and gun distribution charges, some of which carry mandatory penalties of 20 years in prison, or a maximum of 40 years. Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said those charged were involved with “high-level drug trafficking,” not low-level offenses.

The appearances resulted in a frenzy throughout the courthouse as family members sought to bail out defendants and understand what was happening.

Some cried as prosecutors described the charges and the punishments the defendants face.

“My son is a very nice and intelligent boy,” pleaded one woman, who would only identify herself as the mother of an arrested man. “He’s turned his life around. He’s a good father.”

Advertisement

Community members welcomed the arrests, which will put a significant dent in the criminal underworld as summer approaches, said Boston police Commissioner William Evans.

“A lot of these individuals are well-known to us, and have been driving the violence in the city over the last couple of years,’’ he said. “This is a good day for the city.”

The raids early Thursday morning included 15 different SWAT teams.

The FBI had more than 300 agents from throughout the Northeast involved in the investigation, and used several aircraft, including helicopters and planes for operational support such as surveillance.

The endeavor, called “Operation Rising Tide,” was the targeted crackdown on a gang with roots in Boston dating back to the 1980s.

The gang was named after the Columbia Point housing development that was razed in the 1980s to make way for today’s more refined Harbor Point on the Bay apartment community.

Only two of those arrested remain residents of Columbia Point.

Emily Zendt/Globe Staff
Some of the guns collected during the raid.

The complex is perched on Dorchester Bay within eyesight of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, has its own security force and private entrance, and is home to some 3,000 people.

According to FBI records, the Columbia Point Dawgs were “born by blood’’ in 1988 when they staged a violent coup and murdered Toby Johnson, ending the control Johnson’s “Bomb Boys” had of the drug-trafficking organization inside the Columbia Point housing complex in the early 1980s.

The Columbia Point Dawgs assumed control of the neighborhood, positioning themselves to spread into other neighborhoods through turf wars and shootings, including murders in Boston and violent acts outside the city, as recently as the open shooting last month of a car on Route 138 in suburban Mansfield.

Three men, including 35-year-old Louis Whitehead of Fall River, were charged in the Mansfield shooting, according to an FBI affidavit filed in court Thursday.

Whitehead’s cellphone allegedly contained pictures of three powerful firearms.

“The Columbia Point Dawgs is a violent street gang with a significant operating objective — the protection of drug trafficking and other illegal activities by its members through violence and intimidation,’’ FBI Special Agent Matthew C. Knight wrote in an affidavit filed in court.

Along with the two people charged Thursday who are listed as residents of Columbia Point, another 46 listed in the indictments came from across the city, and beyond.

The communities include Dorchester, Mattapan, the South End, and Jamaica Plain, and in the outlying communities of Randolph, Quincy, Weymouth, Canton, Norwood, Hull, Brockton, and Lynn.

As gang members dispersed across Eastern Massachusetts, they violently took control of drug dealing turfs in their new neighborhoods, authorities said.

The group allegedly used an auto body shop in Stoughton and a storage facility in Randolph as fronts for “violent robbery and drug trafficking” operations, and has safe houses in several Boston neighborhoods.

But gang members have sought to legitimize some of their business, for instance creating a record company called “8 Bus” — named after the MBTA line that serves the Columbia Point neighborhood.

Knight wrote that members flaunt their gang affiliation by wearing Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies uniforms, which have the letter P on their caps, locally symbolizing the Point.

Residents of the Columbia Point area said Thursday they wondered at their neighborhood’s history.

Maureen Walsh, who has lived on Harbor Point Boulevard for 25 years, said the neighborhood was peaceful. When officials razed Columbia Point in the 1980s, apartments were provided to residents who wanted to remain.

“In the ’80s, it was rough here, but now it’s pretty quiet,’’ Walsh said Thursday. “The transition has been great.”

Abraham Sierra, who has lived in Harbor Point for 14 years, was shocked any violenc

e could have sprung from such a friendly place.

Today’s Harbor Point residential area includes a fitness center, tennis courts, and beach volleyball.

“It’s beautiful; there’s no trouble here ever,” he said.

Evans stressed that the day’s gang arrests “send a message to those contemplating getting into gangs — we may not get you right away, but we will get you.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@
globe.com
.