AG announces charges against alleged ‘hit squad’ of prison inmates

TRENTON, NJ — Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced April 29 that an alleged local leader of the Latin Kings street gang and eight inmates allegedly under his command in various correctional facilities — including Northern State Prison in Newark and New Jersey State Prison in Trenton — have been charged with forming a “hit squad” within the prison system to commit assaults on behalf of the gang. They are specifically charged with engaging in conduct including a brutal attack on one inmate in New Jersey State Prison, a planned assault on another inmate in Northern State Prison that was prevented by the New Jersey Department of Corrections and possession of makeshift blades called “shanks.”

 The charges were filed by the attorney general’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability as the result of an investigation by members of the DOC Special Investigations Division and OPIA Corruption Central Squad.

Frank Blake, aka “Lafay,” 33, of Hillside, an alleged leader of the Elizabeth chapter of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation street gang, allegedly created and directed a “hit squad” in the state prison system to carry out assaults on behalf of ALKQN. Blake and inmate Alexander Chludzinski, aka “D Noble,” 27, of Phillipsburg, allegedly discussed going to the homes of DOC-SID investigators leading this investigation to commit violence against them.

It is further alleged that, at the request of inmates William Figueroa, aka “King Stitch,” 27, of Hightstown, and Andy Reyes, aka “Chango,” 25, of Somerset — and at the direction of Blake — inmates Roberto Garcia, aka “Taz,” 25, of Carteret, and Eduardo Lago, aka “King Bay Bay,” 27, of Newark, brutally assaulted an inmate in the prison yard of New Jersey State Prison on Sept. 28, 2020, causing the victim to suffer a traumatic brain injury.

Between December 2020 and February 2021, Blake allegedly conspired with and directed alleged ALKQN members Chludzinski; Reyes; Kevin Washington, aka “King Jafi,” 32, of Atlantic City; James Zarate, aka “King Samurai,” 33, of Randolph; and Larry Cardona, aka “King Legend,” 28, of Elizabeth, in planning an assault on an inmate at Northern State Prison. DOC-SID investigators learned of the alleged plot and placed the targeted inmate in protective custody to prevent the attempted assault.

“We allege that Blake and the Latin Kings gang members he commanded in the state prison system not only conspired to assault and seriously injure inmates, but went so far as to plot violence against members of the Department of Corrections who were investigating them,” Grewal said. “Gang violence is always a danger in our state prisons, but we charge that these defendants and their so-called ‘hit squad’ posed a special threat to the safety and security of inmates and correctional police officers. I commend the DOC Special Investigations Division and OPIA for their outstanding work to neutralize this threat and bring these alleged gang members to justice.”

“As a result of the thorough investigation conducted by the DOC Special Investigations Division and our detectives and attorneys, eight of these nine defendants now face a charge of first-degree gang criminality carrying a sentence of up to 20 years in prison,” OPIA Director Thomas Eicher said. “This investigation is ongoing. We charge that these members of the Latin Kings sought to hold sway in prison through violence and fear as if they were out on the street, but we have stopped their alleged reign of terror. We’re committed to protecting people in custody.”

Blake — the only defendant not currently incarcerated — allegedly commanded the gang members inside the prison through phone calls and letters. Blake was arrested April 22 and the eight inmates were charged April 28. All of the defendants, except Cardona, are charged with first-degree gang criminality and second-degree conspiracy. In addition, Blake is charged with first-degree promoting organized street crime.

Blake, Figueroa, Reyes, Lago and Garcia are charged with second-degree aggravated assault in the assault on the inmate at New Jersey State Prison. Blake, Chludzinski, Washington, Reyes, Zarate and Cardona are charged with second-degree attempted aggravated assault for allegedly planning the assault at Northern State Prison.

Blake and Chludzinski are charged with second-degree hindering apprehension or prosecution, third-degree terroristic threats, and fourth-degree obstruction for the alleged threats of violence against DOC-SID members investigating this case. Cardona, Chludzinski, Reyes and Zarate are charged with possessing shanks, and Cardona is charged with possessing a cell phone in prison.

When Blake was arrested, investigators executed a search warrant at his home, seizing a .45-caliber pistol, a .357-caliber revolver loaded with hollow-point bullets, a 9 mm pistol, an illegal large-capacity magazine, additional bullets including hollow-point rounds, numerous suspected methamphetamine pills and two digital scales. For those items, he is charged with second-degree possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, second-degree possession of a weapon during commission of a drug offense, third-degree possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in a school zone and fourth-degree possession of a large-capacity magazine, among other charges.

First-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000. The sentences for gang criminality and promoting organized street crime must be consecutive to the sentence for any underlying offense. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. Possession of a weapon as a convicted felon carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility of five years. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000, while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proved guilty in a court of law.