BANGOR, Maine — The indictments of six men in New Haven, Connecticut, this week on charges that include murder and racketeering is more evidence that violent street gang members have found a lucrative market for their criminal activities in the Bangor area, according to law enforcement officials.
These men, members of a gang identified by New Haven police as the “Red Side Guerilla Brims,” allegedly drove from Connecticut to Bangor with drugs to sell or trade for guns.
“There is no question that this group is violent and that certainly impacted the greater Bangor area,” Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, said Friday.
The Bangor Police Department worked with the MDEA, Connecticut and federal law enforcement for several months on the investigation and intelligence gathering that led to the indictments, Sgt. Tim Cotton said Friday.
“This is a lucrative market for them, and we will do our best to track, investigate and charge them with crimes that take place in this area,” Cotton said.
The alleged ringleader, 30-year-old Jeffrey Benton, formerly of New Haven, was indicted Wednesday along with five other gang members on murder, racketeering and other charges in connection with gang activity, the U.S. attorney’s office in Connecticut said Thursday. Members of the gang, a sect of the Bloods street gang, are accused of killing six people and attempting to murder four others in 2011 and early 2012.
Benton is at Somerset County Jail awaiting trial in Maine on drug conspiracy and gun conspiracy charges. He’s accused of illegally acquiring at least 20 firearms, either buying them with cash or in exchange for drugs.
The guns were bought at Bangor-area pawn shops by people who lied about for whom the firearms were being purchased, according to a federal indictment in February against Benton and nine others. Whether Maine guns were used in the Connecticut killings was not released by investigators.
Half of those named in the federal indictment in Maine earlier this year have New Haven ties, with the others from Bangor, Rockland, Rumford, Orono, Waldoboro and Windham.
Bangor police do not know of any other organized gangs operating in the city, Police Chief Mark Hathaway said Friday.
“We are aware that individuals from other areas of the country, that have gang-related connections, may be in Bangor. There is, however, no information supporting other organized gang activity in Bangor or our region,” Hathaway said.
“We are obviously trying to stay abreast of the changing criminal enterprises and any related connection to the Bangor region,” Cotton said.
Bangor is not alone in being a marketplace for gang members.
“There are criminal enterprises afoot,” McKinney said. “Certainly, Maine has the experience of distributors and users traveling out of state to acquire their drugs. And we have these criminal enterprises coming from out of state to set up shop. New Hampshire and Vermont are also dealing with the very same issues, of [drug dealers] from New York and Connecticut reaching into the northern New England states to feed the users.”
The link between gangs, drugs and gun running in Maine was detailed most prominently in May 2014, when the Los Angeles Times reported the gun used by one of the Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was purchased from alleged gang members in Portland.
The number of reputed gang members in Maine is significant, according to the FBI’s National Gang Threat Assessment for 2011. It shows southern Maine has some 4,000 gang members, up from little detectable gang presence just four years earlier.
These trends have led to the creation of the Southern Maine Gang Task Force, comprised of agents and officers from federal agencies and the Portland and Biddeford police departments.
Deputy Chief JoAnne Fisk of the Biddeford Police Department said the task force mostly deals with violent crimes, but that it’s uncommon for national gangs to be in her community.
Illicit gun running, however, is happening everywhere, she said.
“They just travel and travel and travel and go from hand to hand,” Fisk said.
Criminals come to Maine to buy guns, said McKinney, because they know they can find people who will exchange weapons for drugs.
“Obviously, they have an ‘in’ with some folks,” he said.
Bangor Daily News writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.