Inside the Trinitarios: How a Bloodthirsty Gang, and a Loan, Led to the Death of a Teenager
Prosecutors have dealt blows to the gang’s hierarchy, leaving a vicious scramble for power among splinter groups. The feud cost Lesandro Guzman-Feliz his life.
Rule No. 2 in the membership handbook is simple: Anyone who disrespects the Trinitarios gang must be swiftly, and severely, punished. The punishment typically follows a pattern — a crowd of Trinitarios, armed with machetes and knives, hunt down and swarm their victims, stabbing and slashing them multiple times.
That was the way Ka’Shawn Phillips, 16, was killed in Yonkers in 2005, and Mahomed Jalloh, 18, in Upper Manhattan in 2010. And it was the way Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, 15, died in the Belmont section of the Bronx last month.
Lesandro’s death differed in one chilling respect. The other victims had quarreled with Trinitarios, but detectives have said Lesandro was a victim of mistaken identity. His killers thought he was a member of a rival crew. The night before he died, Lesandro had had a run-in with Trinitarios who were cruising his neighborhood in cars, and he told a friend they seemed to take him for a gang member.
Captured by a security camera and shared across the internet, the images of a boyish teenager being dragged from a bodega and hacked to death reverberated as few recent crimes have in New York City, drawing outrage and empathy from politicians, police officials and celebrities.
But Lesandro was only the latest casualty in a bloody internecine feud within the Trinitarios, a highly organized New York-based Dominican gang, law enforcement officials said. The fighting has intensified in recent months and comes several years after federal investigators dismantled the gang’s hierarchy. At least 10 other people were maimed in June in tit-for-tat attacks among warring Trinitario factions in the Bronx.
The conflict highlights a law-enforcement dilemma: When prosecutors take down gang leaders, the remaining members — who are often younger and more rash — are left to fight for control and turf, leaving a trail of death and bloodshed.
The attack on Lesandro also cast a spotlight on the brutality and structure of the Trinitarios, a gang that provides protection to members in prison and funds its operation with drug-dealing on the streets and behind bars. It is known for its violence, with leaders willing to mete out punishment against their fellow Trinitarios by giving a “greenlight” to attack those who violate the gang’s laws.
The Trinitarios or 3ni are a violent New York-based multinational organization composed of Dominican Americans. The name Trinitarios comes from three main Dominican revolutionaries of the Dominican War of Independence: Duarte (Juan Pablo Duarte), Sanchez (Francisco del Rosario Sánchez), and Mella (Matías Ramón Mella), Trinitario was established in 1989 within the New York State prison system and has since spilled into the streets, with chapters in all five boroughs of New York City. Reports of Trinitario activity have also been made in several US states, Spain, and the Dominican Republic.
It is considered one of the fastest-growing gangs in New York, recruiting members from high schools local to the gang’s area of activity, with the highest numbers of reports coming from Chelsea, Gramercy Park, Harlem, Inwood, the Morris Heights section of the Bronx and Washington Heights. Their slogan is “Dios, Patria, y Libertad” (the official motto of the Dominican Republic), which means “God, Fatherland (or Homeland), and Liberty (or Freedom)”. Their colors are red, blue, white (the colors of the Dominican Republic flag), and