GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The man said to be the founder of the Holland branch of the Latin Kings has agreed to a plea deal in federal court.
Eric Ruibal agreed to plead guilty to racketeering and cocaine distribution in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, according to federal court documents.
Ruibal, who investigators say founded the Holland branch of the Latin Kings in 1993, is one of more than two dozen people connected to the gang who were arrested in a major roundup in early 2013.
Nearly all of the more than 30 people who were arrested and charged by the federal government have reached plea agreements in their cases, with many agreeing to testify against others in the group if needed.
As part of his plea agreement, Ruibal will not be asked to testify against any other defendants.
He faces up to 40 years in prison for the drug charge, and 20 years for the racketeering charge.
One former Latin Kings mamber said the street have been quieter since dozens of the Kings’ leaders were arrested as part of the two-year long federal prosecution, but she doubts the gang will die without them.
“There’s a whole bunch of little kids just coming back people from Cali, and they’re all coming down here and trying to get little kids involved with it to help them with their trouble,” she said.
She said she regretted joining the gang, but that it’s difficult to get out once you’re in.
“I wish I’d never joined,” the former member, who asked not to be identified, told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday. “Right when I did it, I regretted it but I was like, ‘I can’t go back now. I just did what I did.'”
She said the Latin Kings will threaten members and their families if they leave or provide information to authorities, and that they follow through on those threats.
“You just gotta watch your back every time you go out,” she said.
The Holland Department of Public Safety says last summer had the among the fewest incidents of gang activity in several years. It was a far cry from the fire bombings and shootings of the 1990s.
But police say they are not naive to the idea that gang activity could rise again.
That aside, Holland DPS Capt. Jack Dykstra said, it’s a turning point.
Police say they hope their efforts like community policing programs — getting in schools and talking to kids — keep kids from joining in the first place.
“We have a great opportunity. We have all the right pieces in place to work with the community. We have great resources out there,” Dykstra said. “It’s not just a police matter. It is a community effort to build these positive opportunities for kids and give them no excuse for gang activity.”
The former gang member said she hopes parents talk to their kids and know what they’re up to. She said that could make the difference.