The illicit marijuana trade is profitable locally - so profitable, police say, that it was the incendiary spark of violent turf warfare that led to the fatal shooting of Rochester Police Officer Anthony Mazurkiewicz in July.
One local man arrested as part of an investigation into the volatile feud told police that he sold marijuana 11 hours a day, seven days a week. On a slow day, he sold $2,000 worth of marijuana; on a good day, he could bring in $6,000.
A drug house that was searched by police in July was brazenly back up and running within days. Dealers had business cards, advertising the "House of Exotics" for sale, and "25 Flavors Plus" of marijuana.
With the lucrative business at risk, one faction asked for help from out-of-state gang members, police allege. One of those is suspected to have been Kelvin Vickers, now accused of the homicide of Mazurkiewicz.
Mazurkiewicz and his partner Sino Seng were on Bauman Street conducting surveillance in response to the violence when they were ambushed on July 21. Police allege that Vickers fired at least 16 shots into the police undercover van, killing Mazurkiewicz and injuring Seng.
At a news conference Tuesday, Rochester Police Captain Frank Umbrino, who heads the major crimes unit, said the warring factions were engaged in "murders, shootings, and arsons." Rochester police made 18 arrests during an investigation into the marijuana trade and the violence, Umbrino said.
Umbrino noted that Mazurkiewicz and Seng were nearing the end of their shifts but offered to stay with the surveillance "because they are dedicated officers and they serve this community."
The street warfare was allegedly between two groups - one headed by Brandon Washington and the other by a man identified in court papers only as "R.S." or "Coop." Police allege in the court papers that, according to an informant, Washington has "self-identified his membership in the 'Crips' a nationally recognized gang."
"R.S. is aligned with another nationally recognized group called the 'Bloods,' " the informant has alleged, the court papers say. The informant's information has been "independently corroborated to the best extent possible without risking his/her safety," the court papers say.
This week, federal prosecutors charged Washington, his brother Jermell Washington, Deadrick Fulwiley, Priest Barr, Derrick Steele, and Brittney Huggins with multiple drug trafficking and firearms-related charges. Fulwiley has been charged in state court with murder in the July 20 fatal shootings of Richard Collinge and MyJel Rand, and the attempted murder of a third victim in that shooting. Also charged in those crimes is Raheim Robinson.
Also accused of those state crimes is Vickers, who is charged with murder in the July 21 fatal shooting of Mazurkiewicz, who was on a police tactical unit detail responding to the escalating violence.
Both Vickers and Robinson are from the Boston area.
The factions dealt solely in marijuana, Umbrino said. He said Rochester police and other local and federal law enforcement collaborated with Boston police to develop proof of the gang connections.
According to the federal criminal complaint, Washington allegedly "solicited members and/or affiliates of the Crips street gangs to travel here from other cities, including the city of Boston, to commit acts of violence against R.S. and other members of the Bloods street gang.
"The conflict between Washington and R.S. has resulted in multiple instances of violence, including drive-by shootings, arson, assault and murder, including a Rochester Police Department investigator working in the tactical unit," the complaint alleges in an affidavit from an agent for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.
The criminal complaint details instances of Molotov cocktails used to try to torch a home, and a semi-automatic rifle converted to automatic use.
The "Bloods" and "Crips" are largely based in Southern California and maintain a hierarchical leadership structure. In Rochester, there has long been a question whether the fluid groups involved in drug trading and occasional violence represent "gangs" because their structures are often so nebulous. There have been periods when police leadership refers to Rochester-based "gangs," and other times when they seem to purposefully avoid the terminology.
Ballistics testing has matched recovered firearms with homicides and shootings, including the killing of Mazurkiewicz.
In a "yard-to-yard" search after the homicide, police found "several guns and boxes of ammunition lying on the ground in plain view in the backyards" of two Laser Street houses, according to the ATF affidavit. "The guns and ammunition appeared to simply have been strewn about the rear lawns in haste."
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Gang turf war led to killing of Rochester NY officer, authorities allege