Gang presence has been felt in Vermont, says DOC

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The Newport courthouse.  Drawing by Lori Halsey
The Newport courthouse. Drawing by Lori Halsey

Clarification, added December 11, 2014:  

In the article on Vermont gang activity, we quoted Brian Mclaughlin as saying the Latin Kings have a presence in Barton. Mr. Mclaughlin has contacted the Chronicle to say the quote was accurate, but he only used Barton as an example of a small community where a gang might turn up. The Latin Kings do not have a house in Barton, Mr. Mclaughlin now says.


copyright the Chronicle December 10, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — Gangs don’t appreciate Vermont’s scenery Brian Mclaughlin of the Department of Corrections told an audience of about 25 social service agency and law enforcement representatives Tuesday. They do like something that most state residents cherish, a sense of safety, but mostly “they’re here strictly for the money,” Mr. Mclaughlin said.

He gave a quick overview of the gangs that have established some presence in the state, particularly in prisons, noting the ethnicity of their members and some identifying aspects, including tattoos and gang colors.

To the extent that gangs have made their presence felt in Vermont, Mr. Mclaughlin said, it is because they do not face the competitive pressures that they do in major cities.

“They’re not getting shot here or strong-armed out of drugs, and there’s no competition,” he said.

Buying drugs in the city is cheap, he said, and Vermonter are willing to pay high prices.

Newport City Police Chief Seth DiSanto said a bag of heroin that sells for $4 in a city could fetch as much as $35 in Newport.

Gangs get organized in prison, Mr. Mclaughlin said.

“They are a good place to foster gangs, they have safety and security provided by the state,” he said.

The biggest group in Vermont prisons, Mr. Mclaughlin said, are white supremacists. They are not locally established, but come back to Vermont when prisoners are sent to spend part of their sentences in Kentucky, he said.

Vermont has few people of color living in the state so prisoners need to be taught to be racist, he said. Then they come back to Vermont as gang members.

The white supremacist gangs wear tattoos of Swastikas and the twin lightning bolts that marked the uniforms of German SS forces in World War II.

Some also have shamrock tattoos, Mr. Mclaughlin said. That, it turned out, is a problem for him.

He recalled getting a shamrock tattoo in St. Johnsbury some years ago and proudly showing it off to one of his Department of Corrections colleagues.

His friend was horrified.

“You can never go to prison with that,” he said. “You’re not a member of the gang, so they’ll cut it off you.”

Mr. Mclaughlin said he has thought of having it removed, even though it was only meant as a testament to his Irish heritage.

“I’m never going to prison,” he said confidently.

Mr. Mclaughlin also talked about outlaw motorcycle clubs.

Vermont weather, which is not conducive to year-round motorcycling, discourages them from settling down here, he said. But the Hell’s Angels are a major presence just across the border in Quebec, where they control strip clubs and similar types of establishments.

The Angels, he said, sometimes need supplies and will travel in Vermont.

Biker gangs tend to have a mostly white membership, Mr. Mclaughlin said, although they will occasionally admit some black members who may be useful to their operations.

The bikers tend to be assertive in bars, although not forthcoming about their clubs, and can be violent, he said.

The Latin Kings, whose members are of Hispanic origin, have established a presence in Barton, Mr. Mclaughlin said.

“They have a gang house that’s a drug house,” he said. “How do we know? It’s marked.”

The gang’s colors are black and gold and members favor tattoos showing a five-pointed crown, lions, or the letters LK.

Another nationally known gang that has some presence in Vermont is the Crips. Once again, said Mr. Mclaughlin, their presence is fostered in prison.

“We have a great prison furlough system that trusts Crips to be supervised in the community,” he said.

The Crips is made up mostly of African American men, Mr. Mclaughlin said, as are the Bloods.

The Crips’ color is blue, the Bloods wear red. Both gangs are violent and like tattoos that include the area codes of the big cities from which their owners come.

Crips also like Star of David tattoos, Mr. Mclaughlin said, while Bloods wear MOB, OG tattoos.

While some local youths have tried to form gangs, they have tended not to be very long lived, he said.

“They don’t have the leadership, and someone gets greedy,” Mr. Mclaughlin said.

He advised people who suspect gang activity to call 211 and report their suspicions. Signs of gangs include odd, spray-painted graffiti on bridges or other surfaces.

Some towns, including Lyndonville and Orleans, have had success ridding themselves of gangs by having local “good old boys” speak to their members and explain they will not put up with such activities in their communities, Mr. Mclaughlin said.

To conclude, he showed a series of portraits of cultural figures who he claims are models for wannabe gang members, including the rappers Ice Cube, Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre, as well as J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks.

Mr. Mclaughlin began his talk with a discussion of drugs in common circulation in Vermont. Buprenorphine strips, he said, are the biggest problem by far in state prisons.

A strip is worth around $200 behind the walls, where it can be divided up into small pieces for sale. Even the small pieces can get users high, he said.

As part of the discussion, Chief DiSanto said Newport has a severe drug problem. There are more users in Rutland and Chittenden County, but on a per capita basis no place else in the state can compete, he said.

Chief DiSanto urged those present to press their state legislatures not to legalize marijuana. Doing so would cause a huge increase in the use of heroin and other dangerous drugs, he said.

He also suggested the state ought to rescind the decriminalization of pot, although he admitted that is unlikely to happen.

Sheriff Kirk Martin agreed with Chief DiSanto, saying that figures coming out of Colorado, where pot is legal, show a huge increase in traffic accidents.

contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]

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