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Hyped Hillsborough County gang case takes another hit

TAMPA — The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office's doomed Latin Kings gang prosecution has taken another hit — this time, at the hands of prosecutors.

The state dropped racketeering charges against the last five defendants, defense attorneys learned Friday. They had been facing up to 30 years in prison for the felonies.

They still face serious charges related to the alleged beating of another gang member.

At least three of the men had been described by authorities as gang leaders.

"I think it was the right decision," said Lyann Goudie, the lead defense attorney. "I think it was a bad case."

The lead prosecutor wouldn't provide much explanation.

"It was just a decision our office made in the best interest of the case," Assistant State Attorney Christine Brown said.

Most likely, prosecutors couldn't escape the fact that their key witness had been discredited.

In a widely reported decision on April 7, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet found that law enforcement had allowed Luis "Danny" Agosto — a felon with multiple convictions — to revive a dormant gang, commit new crimes and threaten people with violence if they didn't attend meetings.

The judge dismissed racketeering charges against 23 defendants nabbed during a highly publicized August 2006 police raid of a purported gang gathering. Another couple dozen people already had accepted plea deals of probation in exchange for their testimony.

A day after Sleet's ruling, Agosto was jailed on allegations that he violated his probation with a series of driving offenses.

Agosto admitted to the violations in court Wednesday. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Perry allowed him to continue on his probation rather than go to prison.

Agosto, who has said the FBI still pays him a $2,400 monthly stipend for his work as an informer, was ordered to maintain regular employment and check in each month with his probation officer.

Sleet carved up the state's racketeering case again in mid April when he threw out charges against two more defendants.

But the judge allowed racketeering charges to remain against five men: Michael "King Dragon" Lugo, Orlando "King Mongo" Perez, Marcus "King Shadow" Jiles, Edwin "King Papo" DeLeon and Omari "King Omar" Tolbert.

Sleet said there was no evidence that Agosto had coerced or threatened the men to attend a May 20, 2006, meeting at the informer's apartment.

The men are accused of beating gang member Alexander Perez Valdez there. Law enforcement monitored the meeting with audio and visual surveillance but didn't intervene until 30 minutes after the beating.

Because of that incident, all five men still face charges of armed kidnapping, aggravated battery and aggravated assault.

Goudie said Valdez admitted during deposition to overstating the severity of the beating.

"It's gross overcharging," Goudie said. "He had maybe a bruise."

Brown declined to comment on the remaining charges.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Hyped Hillsborough County gang case takes another hit 05/23/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 29, 2008 4:43pm]
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