Members of a Bronx gang who allegedly beat and tortured a new recruit they thought was gay along with two other men in separate attacks early this week are claiming that the gang's leader threatened them into participating in the assaults.
Police told the New York Daily News that several members of the gang, known as the Latin King Goonies, claimed that the gang's leader, Ildefonso (Cheto) Mendez, orchestrated the assault and told them that they would be slashed and beaten as well if they did not participate.
Eight members of the gang are being held on charges of burglary, robbery, assault, menacing, unlawful imprisonment and criminal sex acts, which are being added as a hate crime, police said. One suspect, Rudy Vargas-Perez, 22, is also being sought in the incident.
The alleged attacks came amid heightened attention nationwide to anti-gay bullying after a string of suicides last month were attributed to harassment they had suffered.
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the first of the alleged assaults occurred at about 3:30 a.m. Sunday in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx.
In the first incident, gang members allegedly forced a 17-year-old potential recruit for the street gang to an empty apartment in the Bronx that they used for parties and sex, Kelly said.
"He was thrown into a wall, made to strip naked, hit in the head with a beer can, cut with a box cutter and sodomized with the wooden handle of a plunger," the commissioner said.
The alleged attackers, apparently angry he was gay, yelled anti-gay insults and questioned him about his contact with a 30-year-old man, according to police.
The teen was eventually released by the attackers and instructed not to tell anyone, police said. He then walked to a hospital where he was treated, but he reported that his injuries were from a robbery, according to police.
The gang members then attacked another 17-year-old also thought to have had a relationship with the 30-year-old and then the older man as well, police said. They allegedly lured both to the same apartment with a story that there was a party there.
The second teen was allegedly assaulted at about 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, according to police.
When the 30-year-old arrived about an hour later, the nine gang members allegedly stripped him to his underwear and tied him to a chair opposite the other teen, who they forced to burn the man with cigarettes, police said.
They allegedly beat the 30-year-old, forced him to drink 10 cans of the malt beverage Four Loko that he had brought with him, and sodomized him with a small baseball bat, according to police.
"These suspects employed terrible wolf-pack odds of nine-against-one, odds which revealed them as predators whose crimes were as cowardly as they were despicable," Kelly said.
"This was not part of an initiation," he added. "This was a reaction to the fact that they had engaged in homosexual activity."
While the two were being held captive, five of the assailants allegedly went to the 30-year-old's home and let themselves in with keys stolen from the victim, police said. They then allegedly attacked his older brother and robbed him of $1,000, a 52-inch TV and two debit cards.
The five gang members allegedly left the apartment at 11 p.m., after tying up and gagging the victim using a combination of rope, clear plastic tape and blue painter's tape, police said. By 1:30 a.m. Monday, the brother managed to free himself and use a neighbor's phone to call 911.
All of the other alleged victims were eventually freed by their captors and were treated for their injuries at a hospital.
Meanwhile, police said, the gang members tried to cover their tracks and any evidence of the alleged attacks.
"The suspects returned to the scene of the crime, removed the rugs and linoleum, cleaned the rooms and repainted the walls," Kelly said. "They could clean, but they couldn't hide."
Investigators said they found alcohol cans and hair at the scene.
An onlooker also slipped a phone number to detectives, leading them to the primary suspect, Kelly said.
The alleged victims were initially reluctant to talk to police, but eventually started to give details about the assaults, Kelly said.
The Hate Crimes Task Force took over the investigation, along with Bronx robbery and gang division and special victims squad, and arrested the seven men.
The mother of one of the suspects told ABC New York station WABC-TV that she cannot believe that her son could be involved in such a heinous crime.
"That would surprise me for real, because I can't picture my son doing something like that," Kramer said.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city's highest-ranking openly gay official, called the attacks "vile" and "horrifying."
"These attacks are appalling and are even more despicable because the victims were clearly targeted in acts of hate simply because they are gay," Quinn said. "The cowardly few who committed these crimes do not represent New Yorkers, and our community will not be cowed by such violence."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was sickened by the alleged violence and "saddened by the anti-gay bias," according to The Associated Press.
A weekend rally on anti-gay bias was planned following other crimes against gays.
On Sunday, a patron at the Stonewall Inn, a symbol of the gay rights movement since protests over a 1969 police raid there, was beaten in an anti-gay bias attack, according to prosecutors.
Two suspects in the case were charged. Their attorneys say they're not guilty.
That attack followed the Sept. 22 death of New Jersey college student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room was secretly streamed online. The student's roommate and another freshman have been charged with invasion of privacy. Authorities are considering bias-crime charges.
The attacks remain all too common, and there is still a stigma to being a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered person, said Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which works to combat attacks on gays and others.
"We have to stop thinking that it's OK to bully LGBT people or make fun of LGBT people," Stapel said.
"What we see now is the link between casual sort of comments and the real and horrific violence that results because those comments contribute to an entire culture of violence," she said.
In a statement on the incident Bronx borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said: "Bronxites will not tolerate any form of bigotry in our borough, and we stand together as 1.4 million residents to condemn these actions and to oppose hatred in all its forms."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.