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Landlord Pleads Guilty For Knowingly Renting Apartments To Latin Kings For Drug Dealing

The building at 358 North Front St. in New Bedford, reportedly one of the "trap houses" that Robert Avitabile rented to the Latin Kings.

An owner of multiple apartment buildings in New Bedford, Massachusetts, has pleaded guilty to racketeering and drug charges for knowingly renting units to a gang that used them to manufacture, store and sell drugs.

The landlord, Robert Avitabile, agreed to forfeit proceeds from the sales of three apartment buildings as part of a guilty plea, and he could face years in prison, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts announced Wednesday.  

Prosecutors said Avitabile is a former associate of the gang, the New Bedford chapter of the Massachusetts Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, commonly known as the Latin Kings.

The guilty plea comes after 62 alleged Latin Kings members, including Avitabile, were arrested and charged in December 2019 in what the FBI's Boston division described as the "largest takedown" in the division's history. Avitabile is the 57th defendant to plead guilty.

The Latin Kings rented the three apartment buildings, referred to in the release as "trap houses," from Avitabile and used them as centers of power for the gang and as hubs for a "vast" cocaine distribution network, prosecutors said in a press release. Avitabile continued to rent to the gang after police searched the units dozens of times, the release said.

The U.S. attorney's office said it intercepted recordings of Avitabile and the chapter's leader, Jorge Rodriguez, discussing placement of Latin Kings members in apartment units, payment of rent from Latin Kings members and investment of drug proceeds into real estate. 

The gang planned to use drug money to renovate the properties and flip them for a profit as a way to launder money, the U.S. attorney's office said in 2019, according to a Boston Herald report at the time. The Herald story identified the three "trap house" apartment buildings as 104 Tallman St., 269 Sawyer St. and 358 North Front St. in New Bedford. 

Avitabile pleaded guilty to two charges: a conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, also known as RICO conspiracy, and conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cocaine and cocaine base, or crack cocaine. The RICO conspiracy charge comes with a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, and the drug charge comes with a sentence of up to 20 years, 40 years or life in prison, depending on the quantity of drugs, according to the release. A federal district court judge will impose the sentences based on federal guidelines.

Joseph Cordeiro, then the police chief of New Bedford, told The Herald News after the takedown in December 2019 that landlords play a big role in allowing gangs like the Latin Kings to thrive.

“Landlords are not screening their tenants,” Cordeiro said, according to the Herald News. “We’ll do a drug raid, they’ll evict them from that property and then put them in another property they own. Landlords play a very handsome role in enabling these folks and giving them a place to operate and live.”  

Related Topics: FBI, New Bedford