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SNITCHES, HITS AND THE ALMIGHTY LATIN KINGS

July 6, 2001 — With his sallow prison complexion, dark rings under his eyes and calm demeanor, Pedro Natal Ortiz, the federal government’s surprise witness Thursday in the case against three St. Croix police officers, hardly fit the image of a onetime high-ranking heavy in one of the most ruthless gangs in America: the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation.
Ortiz took the witness stand Thursday in U.S. District Court on St. Croix during the sentencing hearing of former officers Ronald Pickard, Dean Bates and Renaldo Philbert. The three were convicted last year on a variety of charges including civil rights and weapons violations.
But as the hearing began to determine how much prison time each defendant would do, federal prosecutors asked District Court Judge Raymond Finch to stiffen the sentences because while in prison in Puerto Rico they allegedly asked Ortiz to arrange the murder of an FBI agent for $50,000.
Chief enforcer
In their effort to prove that Pickard, Bates and Philbert tried to arrange a hit on FBI agent Robert Enriquez and his family, the prosecutors unexpectedly put Ortiz on the stand.
Dressed in a tan prison suit and wearing leg shackles, Ortiz calmly described to the packed courtroom his long involvement in the Latin Kings and his short relationship with Pickard while both were housed at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.
Pickard "said he wanted Enriquez to have anesthesia," Ortiz said, citing what he said was a prison cell conversation the two had earlier this year. "From where I come from, it’s when you take a person out."
Apparently, Ortiz came close to convincing Pickard that he had the pull to order such a hit from prison. Ortiz, the Latin Kings’ "chief enforcer" for New York City in the early and mid-1990s –- and now a self-described snitch — said almost all of the 30 to 40 "missions" undertaken by the gang’s assassins under his tenure were successful.
It was a telephone call made by Pickard to his family's laundry business on Feb. 27 that convinced Federal Bureau of Prisons officials that there was a legitimate threat on the FBI agent’s life. In a taped conversation with an individual identified only as "Bernard," prosecutors alleged, Pickard was intent on killing Enriquez. The agent’s name was never mentioned, but prosecutors alleged that the name "Barney Fife," the bumbling deputy to sheriff Andy Griffin in the old television sitcom "Mayberry RFD," was used for Enriquez.
In a transcript of the phone conversation, "Bernard" said he wasn’t afraid of anybody, then later said, "you can't kill the f-ing family … they got the police with them."
"Exactly," Pickard responded.
Sometime in February before the phone call, Pickard and Ortiz spent time in the same prison cell. After breaking the ice through discussions of the Koran, the two spoke about their histories: Pickard the cop and Ortiz the gangster.
Snitch
Ortiz admitted he had passed information to prison officials previously. He said that once he heard Pickard speak about killing Enriquez, he contacted officials thinking that he could get help when he was up for parole. Ortiz already had arranged to have his family relocated to Puerto Rico from the mainland -– at a cost of $8,000 -– for similar activities.
Ortiz said he and Pickard discussed the proposed hit on Enriquez. Pickard allegedly told Ortiz that if Pickard's "triggerman" on St. Croix couldn’t take out the agent, then he, Bates and Philbert would enlist the help of Ortiz for $50,000. In a revelation that elicited gasps from people in the courtroom, Ortiz said there were Latin Kings living on St. Croix.
Pickard knew where Enriquez lived "and where his wife and kids were located," Ortiz said, adding that Pickard wanted the murder to appear to have occurred during a robbery. "A member of the family had to pay" for Pickard’s incarceration, Ortiz said.
Ortiz was transferred from the prison on May 4. Before he left, he gave Pickard a phone number to call if he wanted help in killing the FBI agent. The number was a phony that would have connected Pickard to a federal agent posing as a Latin King.
"He told me he was going to wait a while," Ortiz said.
Pickard never dialed the number.
Never
Under cross examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney St. Claire Theodore, Pickard denied having spoken to Ortiz about killing Enriquez.
"Never," he said. "I don’t entertain that kind of conversation to kill people."
Reminding Pickard that he was under oath, Theodore then asked if he had ever made a phone call that mentioned killing Enriquez. Pickard went on the offensive, scolding the prosecution for making him out to be a "thug."
"I’m not denying that call," Pickard said. "I’m denying the context of how you are trying to turn it around.
"I swear to God that I never said the things you accused me of," Pickard said.
With that, Theodore asked Finch for permission to play the recorded telephone conversation. Finch refused.
The judge then, without explanation as to why, denied the prosecution’s motion to stiffen the three defendants' sentences based on the information supplied by Ortiz.
The Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation
According to gang experts and incarcerated members of the Latin Kings, the gang was formed to promote Hispanic identity among prison inmates and to organize Caribbean Hispanics serving jail sentences. The aim of the organization was ostensibly to protect Hispanics from discrimination at the hands of other inmate organizations and hostile prison authorities.
The U.S. Department of Justice, however, describes the Latin Kings as a racketeering enterprise whose members are involved in armed robbery, drug trafficking and murder. There is a sister organization for women called the Latin Queens, and the two groups together are known as the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation.
Authorities estimate that there are 25,000 Latin Kings members in New Jersey alone, making it the largest street gang in the state. The Kings have chapters across the country and, according to Ortiz, on St. Croix.
Members sport beads and tattoos in the gang's colors — black and gold. They pay dues, attend weekly meetings, and undertake "missions" when directed by leaders, according to gang experts on the mainland.
Ortiz was asked under cross examination by Pickard’s attorney, George Cannon Jr., why he wouldn’t identify Latin Kings members on St. Croix. Ortiz responded that there was no reason to do so, since they hadn’t been contacted to carry out the hit on the FBI agent.
"They haven’t done nothing wrong, so why should I give you their names?" Ortiz said. "If the crime would have taken place … then they would have been sitting here, too."

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