It’s the ‘Big House’ for the Pink Houses Crew

Twenty alleged members of interlocking gangs centered around a Brooklyn housing project were charged Monday with being involved in more than a dozen armed robberies of jewelry stores in the New York Metropolitan area for 17 months, authorities said. A total of $2.5 million worth of jewelry was stolen and several employees were beaten.

Authorities say the gangs operated around the Louis H. Pink housing project in East New York, and were known collectively as the Pink Houses Crew.

“The defendants terrorized the retail jewelry industry throughout the New York City metropolitan region for nearly two years, and endangered not only their robbery victims but anyone in the vicinity of their violent criminal activity,” U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said. “Their ability to plan and execute so many brazen armed robberies was truly alarming.”

Some of those charged were also accused of attempting to murder a gang member who they thought was an informant, stealing $250,000 worth of furs from a Manhattan clothing store and committing robberies of other stores.

The arrests followed a lengthy investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Enforcement, the FBI and Nassau County and New York City police.

“The Pink Houses Crew showed wanton disregard for the safety of the employees of the jewelry stores they targeted, and equal disregard for the safety of bystanders,” said Pasquale D’Amuro, FBI assistant director-in-charge. “Motivated by greed, they stopped at nothing to line their pockets. Now the gang from the Pink Houses will be relocated to ‘the big house.’ “

Eighteen of those charged were arraigned Monday and Tuesday in federal District Court in Central Islip and pleaded not guilty to a variety of charges, including conspiracy to commit robberies, according to a statement from authorities and media reports. Two members have yet to be arrested.

The crime spree began in August 2003, authorities said. The indictment charges that the gang typically recruited participants for the robberies in the vicinity of the Pink Houses. They entered jewelry stores armed with pistols, forced employees and customers to lie on the floor, bound their wrists, and emptied display cases of expensive jewelry. Frequently, crewmembers located and removed security videotapes from the stores they robbed, and in some instances pistol-whipped their victims on the head and face. Occasionally, members of the robbery crew stole firearms from the stores’ security guards.

The indictment alleges that the defendants fenced the jewelry at various pawnshops in New York, including the Seapod Pawn Shop in East New York, the owner, Frank Morea, was among those who were arrested.

Authorities say that robberies attributed to various members of the crew include:

* Tudor Jewelers in Elmont, New York, Dec. 17, 2003. During the robbery, a crewmember pistol-whipped an employee, leaving him unconscious.

* Concord Jewelers in Rockville Centre, New York, Jan. 12, 2004. During the robbery, crewmembers obtained almost $900,000 in jewelry and assaulted store employees, inflicting serious injuries.

* Big Jake’s Jewelers in the Bronx, New York, May 19, 2004. A security guard was chased and shot at fleeing crew members, inadvertently wounding an innocent bystander.

* Between Sept. 16, and Oct. 21, 2004, crew members conspired to rob $250,000 worth of jewelry from an undercover FBI agent posing as a jeweler transporting jewelry from Israel to Queens, New York.

Other charges include:

* Cellini Uomo Clothing Store, Manhattan, Nov. 12, 2003. Crewmembers robbed $250,000 worth of fur coats from the store.

* On December 25, 2004, crew members attempted to murder another crewmember in Queens, New York, to prevent him from cooperating with law enforcement. The victim was shot in the back of the head and left for dead on the Van Wyck Expressway.