By Kevin Deutsch and Sasha Gonzales
When 16-year-old Edgar Garcia allegedly fired three shots across a busy Bronx street Feb. 22, the reputed gang member was partaking in a violent underworld conflict—one whose roots predate his birth, and has sparked dozens of violent assaults and shootings during the past decade, officials say.
The NYPD says Garcia is affiliated with Los Vagos, a Mexican transnational gang with sets based in East Harlem and the Bronx. The 19-year-old he was aiming for when he opened fire across the bustling block is a member of Los Cholos, a rival Mexican gang that—in one incarnation or another—has been feuding with Los Vagos and other New York gangs for years.
Garcia’s lawyer said his client has no gang affiliation and is not the person responsible for the shooting.
Los Vagos and Los Cholos, gangs comprised mostly of teenagers from impoverished families, have long jockeyed for territory along the Bronx-Manhattan border, carrying out shootings, beatings, robberies, and acts of extortion.
Los Cholos consider an area near 151st Street and Courtlandt Avenue near the Melrose and Andrew Jackson Houses—a hotspot for gang activity—to be the heart of their territory.
Los Vagos, whose various sets claim territory throughout Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx, is one of several area crews at odds with Los Cholos, gang experts say.
The Vagos-Cholos feud has played out with violent results for years, but has rarely made news—except when a member is killed. More frequent than homicides are gang-related beatings, robberies, and other crimes perpetrated by the gangs that rarely make headlines in New York City.
This time, the crime was different. A viral video captured Garcia’s alleged attack on a Los Cholos rival, in which he’s seen firing three shots across a busy Concourse block as bystanders, including a frightened-looking little girl, run for cover.
The video fostered outrage across the city, and, in the process, has shined a light on a little-covered gang conflict wreaking havoc in two boroughs.
Garcia’s attorney, Roger Asmar, said he doesn’t believe his client is the shooter seen on the video.
“The allegations are baseless,” said Asmar. “I don’t think my client is the one who committed the crime. It’s an ID issue here.
“He’s shocked, he’s afraid, like a 16-year-old kid who’s been arrested for something he didn’t do would feel.”
Garcia was arraigned in Bronx Criminal Court Friday on charges that include attempted murder, attempted assault, and possessing a loaded weapon. He was released on $25,000 bond/$10,000 bail, his lawyer said.
The teen is being prosecuted as an “adolescent offender,” meaning his case will begin in the court’s Youth Part and, if he is convicted, a judge will consider his age when deciding on a punishment. Adolescent offenders also have access to intervention services and programs, authorities said.
According to Asmar, Garcia has no affiliation or involvement with any gang.
The NYPD says otherwise.
In federal court documents, prosecutors have described a host of well-organized criminal activities carried out by Los Vagos members, including murder, conspiracy, and extortion.
Authorities also said the gang holds organizational meetings, oversees gang initiations, and collects dues from gang members and associates.
Los Vagos initiations are referred to as “baptisms,” officials said, and involve gang members beating the prospective member. Members have also been accused of collecting dues which were used to buy guns for the gang, and sent to incarcerated members.
Dues were also used to pay the expenses of deported gang members and to assist them with illegally re-entering the United States, officials said.
Los Vagos members have been known to mark their territory with graffiti, including tags that read “VGS” “VGS-116” (short for “Vagos, 116th Street,” in Manhattan), and “10 MDS” (short for “10 Mandamientos,” or “10 Commandments”), according to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
As far back as 2011, federal prosecutors were describing Los Vagos as a “dangerous and deadly criminal organization.” Announcing the arrests of several reputed members, then U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the prosecution was “an important step forward in dismantling this ruthless gang and disrupting their reign of terror. Our campaign to rid the streets of New York of violent gangs and to return the neighborhoods they infest to their residents continues.”
The conflict between members of Los Vagos and Los Cholos has its roots in disputes going back two decades, both in New York and Mexico, experts said.
Garcia is due back in court Monday.