Lured into a trap, then tortured for being gay

Lured into a trap, then tortured for being gay
New York:  He was told there was a party at a brick house on Osborne Place, a quiet block set on a steep hill in the Bronx. He showed up last Sunday night as instructed, with plenty of cans of malt liquor. What he walked into was not a party at all, but a night of torture -- he was sodomized, burned and whipped.

There were nine attackers, ranging from 16 to 23 years old and calling themselves the Latin King Goonies, the police said. Before setting upon their 30-year-old victim, they had snatched up two teenage boys whom they beat, the police said -- until the boys -- one of whom was sodomized with a plunger -- admitted to having had sex with the man.

The attackers forced the man to strip to his underwear and tied him to a chair, the police said. One of the teenage victims was still there, and the "Goonies" ordered him to attack the man. The teenager hit him in the face and burned him with a cigarette on his nipple and penis as the others jeered and shouted gay slurs, the police said. Then the attackers whipped the man with a chain and sodomized him with a small baseball bat.

The beatings and robberies went on for hours. They were followed by a remarkably thorough attempt to sanitize the house -- including pouring bleach down drains, the police said, as little by little word of the attacks trickled to the police. A crucial clue to the attackers was provided by someone who slipped a note to a police officer outside the crime scene, at 1910 Osborne Place in Morris Heights, near Bronx Community College.

Seven suspects were arrested on Thursday and Friday, and two were still being sought in a crime that the leader of the City Council called among the worst hate crimes she had ever heard of. "It makes you sick," said the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, the city's highest ranking openly gay official.

The charges included abduction, unlawful imprisonment and sodomy, all as hate crimes.

"These suspects deployed terrible, wolf-pack odds of nine against one, which revealed them as predators whose crimes were as cowardly as they were despicable," Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said at a news conference.

The assaults are the latest in a string of recent episodes of bullying and attack against gays. A Rutgers University student jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge last month, prosecutors said, after his roommate had secretly set up a webcam in their room and streamed over the Internet his sexual encounter with another man. Two men were accused of robbing and beating a man in the Stonewall Inn, a landmark gay bar in Greenwich Village, last weekend while shouting slurs.

Neighbours on Osborne Place said the house, nondescript but for its door painted a bright lime green, had been vacant for some time. A group of teenagers and young men had moved in as squatters, neighbors said, and hosted loud parties.

"You could smell it from them," said a neighbor who gave only his last name, Gomez. "From the start, you could tell they were trouble." Mr Gomez said he and other neighbors had discussed whether anything could be done about the squatters, but nothing came of it.

The nine suspects -- the group seemed not so much part of an established gang as a loose group of friends who adopted a nickname -- knew some or all three victims. The idea for the attacks seemed to have been hatched last Saturday, after one member of the group saw the 30-year-old man, who he knew was gay, with a 17-year-old who wanted to join the gang, the police said.

Hours later, at 3:30 am on Sunday, the group grabbed the 17-year-old, took him to the house and slammed him into a wall, the police said.

He was beaten, made to strip naked, slashed with a box cutter, hit on the head with a can of beer and sodomized with the wooden handle of a plunger, the police said. And he was interrogated about the 30-year-old and asked if they had had sex.

The teenager said that they had. The gang members set him loose, warning him to keep quiet or they would hurt his friends and family. The teenager walked into a nearby hospital and said he had been jumped by strangers on the street and robbed.

At 8:30 pm on Sunday, the police said, the group members grabbed a second 17-year-old, beating and likewise interrogating him about his contact with the 30-year-old. He, too, said he had had sex with the man. They took his jewelry and held him while the 30-year-old arrived for what he thought was a party, his arms filled with 10 tall cans of Four Loko, a caffeine-infused malt liquor. He had cleaned out a store of its entire stock.

He was immediately set upon and tied up. Then the assailants ordered the second teenager to attack the 30-year-old, and they joined in the beating. The beating lasted hours, the police said. The attackers forced the man to drink all 10 cans of liquor -- each about twice the size of a can of beer, with a higher alcohol content, 10 percent to 12 percent, according to Four Loko's Web site.

While the man was held captive and attacked, five of the Latin King Goonies went to his house, which he shared with his 40-year-old brother. Using a key taken from the 30-year-old to get inside, they found his brother in bed. They pulled a blanket over his head and hit him, demanding money. When he refused, one placed a cellphone to the brother's ear, and he heard the voice of his younger brother, who said he had been kidnapped and who pleaded, "Give them the money."

The brother complied. The men took $1,000 in cash, two debit cards and a 52-inch television.

The brother managed to free himself about three hours later, and he called the police, leaving out the fact that his brother was being held. By then it was Monday morning. Detectives went to the brothers' home and, upon leaving, saw the 30-year-old, passed out on the landing from the alcohol he had consumed. But having no reason to believe he had been a victim of a crime, they did not question him.

Detectives returned later that day, suspicious of how the robbers had entered the brothers' home without using force, and the 30-year-old told them he had been picked up in a van by strangers and forced to give them his keys and address, the police said.

Officers still had no idea about the first teen who had visited the hospital, because he had not called the police, and hospitals are not required to inform the authorities about assaults, the police said. The man had said he was robbed near 1910 Osborne, and police officers tried to obtain a search warrant for the house but were told they did not have enough cause, the police said.

Late on Tuesday the second teenager walked into a Bronx police station house and gave a version of what had happened, the police said. None of the three victims, in their first interviews with the police, were fully forthcoming, fearing reprisal and wanting to keep their lives a secret. But the second teenager gave an address, and a second request for a search warrant was granted.

On Wednesday morning, officers entered 1910 Osborne Place and found a surprising sight: an immaculate house, with fresh coats of paint and the smell of bleach hanging thick in the air. One detective called the house "the cleanest crime scene I've ever seen," Mr Kelly said.

"Lots of bleach and paint were used to cover the bloodshed by their tortured prey," he said. "They even poured bleach down the drains."

Rugs and linoleum had been ripped out. Detectives were able to scrape evidence, including pubic hair and empty liquor cans, from the house, but not much was found, Mr. Kelly said.

The break in the case came later Wednesday when someone in a crowd of onlookers outside the house quietly slipped an officer his phone number and, when a detective called, gave the name of the man believed to be the ringleader of the group of nine: Ildefonzo Mendez, 23. Officers later learned the name of the first victim from the other teenager.

By Wednesday night, all three victims had given full accounts of the attacks, and for the next 36 hours, officers with the Hate Crimes Task Force, the Gang Division and Special Victims squad worked up a list of nine suspects.

The other suspects under arrest were identified as David Rivera, 21; Nelson Falu, 18; Steven Carballo, 17; Denis Peitars, 17; Bryan Almonte, 17; and Brian Cepeda, 16. They were being held by the police in the Bronx on Friday night, with no arraignment scheduled. Still being sought, the police said, are Elmer Confessor, 23, and Ruddy Vargas-Perez, 22.

One suspect confessed, a law enforcement official said, others have not given statements.

One suspect was taken to the hospital unconscious Friday night, with an undisclosed medical problem.
Story First Published: October 09, 2010 11:07 IST

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