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Closing Arguments Begin in Street Gang Trial

February 9, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ A Manhattan street gang known as the Westies was ″like a standing army of violent thugs″ that terrorized the Hell’s Kitchen area for more than 20 years, a prosecutor said Monday in closing arguments in the trial of eight alleged gang members.

″So much of the evidence in this case has been about violence and death,″ Assistant U.S. Attorney David Brodsky said as the four-month-old racketeering trial neared a close.

″Witness after witness,″ Brodsky told the jury, had testified about ″being shot and left for dead, being kidnapped at the point of a gun″ or about murders and dismemberments.

Brodsky and fellow prosecutor Mary Lee Warren presented scores of photos, tape recordings and more than 70 witnesses to back their contentions that the gang controlled the West Side neighborhood for two decades.

″Out on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, Jimmy Coonan and his gang were vicious, they were not civilized,″ said Brodsky, pointing to reputed Westies leader James ″Jimmy″ Coonan, 41, of Hazlet, N.J.

Coonan and his seven co-defendants are accused of a racketeering conspiracy that included murders, loansharking, extortion and kidnapping ″to gain control and keep control of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood,″ said Brodsky.

The other defendants are Coonan’s wife Edna, 44; Thomas Collins, 53, and his wife, Florence, 52; James ″Jimmy Mack″ McElroy, 42; William ″Indian″ Bokun, 30; John Halo, 36; and Richard ″Muggsy″ Ritter, 50. Except for the Coonans, all are from Manhattan.

During the trial, an admitted former gang member testified that he helped Coonan and others kill a loan shark and then ″watched them cut the guy’s head off.″

Coonan’s niece described how he and another reputed gang member showed up at her apartment with a human head in a garbage bag ″dripping blood.″

As he listed the killings and attempted killings allegedly committed by the Westies, Brodsky showed the jury several guns allegedly seized from gang members’ homes and cars.

″The Westies were like a standing army of violent thugs,″ said Brodsky, ″all these guns were the tools of their trade.″

Brodsky was to complete his closing statement Tuesday, paving the way for nearly a week of closing remarks by defense attorneys.

Defense lawyers have denied the charges or even the existence of an organization called the Westies.

But prosecutors claim the gang systematically murdered competitors for control of the tough neighborhood and is responsible for at least 28 unvolved killings in Manhattan.

According to the Presidents Organized Crime Commission, the Westies is made up of about 15 men, most in jail or in hiding, who with as many as 100 criminal associates ″control many theatrical unions, giving them a foothold in television studios, exhibition halls and convention centers.″

The gang, which dates back to Owney ″Killer″ Madden, owner of the Cotton Club, is a remnant of the huge Irish presence in organized crime in American cities at the turn of the century. After World War II, the gang was surpassed in power and influence by the city’s Mafia families.

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