By Gina Martinez
Some of the most notable crimes in Queens this year included a rise in MS 13 gang activity in northeast Queens, a disgraced congressman sentenced for fraud and a stolen tortoise that was taken across state lines.
In May, officers discovered the body of a 16-year-old in Alley Pond Park. Police later identified the victim as Jamaica resident Julio Vasquez. According to police, Vasquez was a member of the MS 13 gang. He was found with multiple stab wounds to his chest and back.
A few weeks later, 39-year-old Fernando Gonzalez Chavez, originally from El Salvador, was standing outside a Murray Hill deli on 162nd Street and Northern Boulevard when Roberto Abrego, 23, and Jose Alvarenga, 27, allegedly ambushed him. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Chavez was shot in the chest, puncturing a lung and resulting in his death. Brown alleged the two Long Island assailants were members of MS-13. Shortly after the shooting NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce told reporters that Chavez had a tattoo of the number “13,” leading police to believe he was a member of the gang.
In July a Queens jury found City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) guilty of five counts of corruption. Wills was accused of defrauding the city and the state of a combined $30,500 by creating a shell company, Micro Targeting, to siphon off campaign and grant money, which was meant to go to his charity, New York 4 Life, according to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. He was charged with taking the money to buy gas, food and clothes for himself, including a Louis Vuitton bag.
The councilman was convicted of scheming to defraud, grand larceny and offering a false instrument for filing. He was exonerated of falsifying business records, spokesman said.
The money that the city Campaign Finance Board and the state Office of Children and Family Services provided him was to support programs for the not-for-profit, but he used it as a campaign war. Wills, who represented represents South Ozone Park, Rochdale and parts of Jamaica, was sentenced to two to six years in prison in August.
Also in August, an East Elmhurst man was arrested for kidnapping a rare tortoise from Alley Pond Environmental Center in Bayside. Shawn Waters, 37, pleaded guilty on Dec. 7 to fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property. Waters broke into the confines of the environmental center by creating a hole in the pen holding the 17-year-old tortoise, Millenium, and was apprehended in Connecticut a week later.
The African spurred tortoise had a value of $2,500. Waters posted a notice that Millenium was for sale on Craigslist and exchanged the tortoise with a man at the Metro-North station in Fairfield, Conn., for $300 plus a musk turtle.
Police tracked Waters by the cell phone number used to arrange the exchange between the defendant and the Connecticut man.
The theft of Millenium sparked strong reactions in Queens and beyond. PETA even offered a $5,000 reward for information leading authorities to the whereabouts of Millennium in the hope the tortoise would be returned safely.
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart