Drug and gun charges announced Wednesday against a Malden couple may be only the start of a federal crackdown on what investigators say is an increasingly violent drug-fueled gang war north of Boston in which gangs have been acquiring machine guns to spray rivals and rival turf with bullets.
An affidavit by an FBI agent who participated in building a case against Jaiir "JC" Coleman, 22, and Christina Bernbaum, 23, of Malden, said that over the past 18 months, there have been "650 separate shootings and over 1,900 rounds fired" in Chelsea, Cambridge, Everett, Lynn, Malden, Somerville and neighboring communities.
That includes Boston, where officials say a gun used as part of a fusillade that left Martin Luther King Boulevard and two intersecting streets strewn with 32 spent shells last August was linked to Coleman - whom they charge had used it earlier to spray streets in Somerville and Chelsea with bullets. Two Canton residents were arrested in connection with the Boston gunfire.
Coleman and Bernbaum were the first to be formally charged in connection with what the Boston-based feds codenamed "Operation Street Sweepah: Kings of Belaire" - the second part of the name for the way the couple and their buds are frequently seen swilling Belaire champagne on recovered photos and videos. The affidavit discusses numerous "coconspirators" without naming them.
Both Coleman and Bernbaum now face charges of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, conspiring to possess, use and carry firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking conspiracy, possessing a machine gun and possessing a machine gun in furtherance of a drug trafficking conspiracy. Bernbaum was arrested yesterday; Coleman has been held in the Essex County jail since January on gun charges.
According to the affidavit, Coleman's phone proved a treasure trove of evidence, containing "hundreds, if not thousands, of text messages, pictures, and videos pertaining to firearms and the distribution of controlled substances, including cocaine, cocaine base, fentanyl, and marijuana, dating back multiple years and corresponding to multiple kilograms of drug weight." Also useful: Music videos Coleman and an as yet unnamed coconspirator posted to YouTube showing him fondling guns connected to several incidents - as well as guzzling still more Belaire champagne.
From YouTube videos:
The affidavit charges the pair were among the players in gang battles that saw gunfire concentrated on the streets near Somerville's Mystic Housing Projects, home to the MP-45 gang, and Cambridge's Port neighborhood, home to the the Port 44 gang. Coleman was specifically charged with firing a gun once in Chelsea and then three more times in Somerville on Nov. 11, 2019 and with opening fire on a group of people on Harvard Street in Cambridge on July 2, 2020, although he did not hit anybody.
The affidavit claims that the gangs would occasionally team up with national gangs, including the Bloods, the Crips and the Tiny Rascals Gang, a West Coast gang that is slowly morphing from consisting of members with Southeast Asian backgrounds to anybody who wants to participate in their particular brand of violence-laced drug dealing - the gang specializes in "drive-by shootings of residences of rival gang members."
The affidavit says the local gun attacks would typically be preceded by verbal jousting online:
Rivalries between these gang originate from the competing drug enterprises that these gangs operate in their respective communities. Conflicts between individuals arise over drug customers, proceeds, territory, and personal disrespect taking place over social media. Once a conflict arises, the gangs to which the individuals are affiliated become involved and the conflict expands to encompass the respective gang as well. Time and again, such conflicts that start on social media platforms, such as Facebook, SnapChat and Instagram, have escalated into gunfire on the streets.
The affidavit details Coleman's and Bernbaum's alleged activities - which included Bernbaum taking her four-year-old daughter with her on trips to distribute drugs or collect payments - and storing drugs and paraphernalia in her daughter's Minnie Mouse lunchbox.
Coleman was arrested in Lynn on Jan. 6 of this year on state gun charges - police initially stopped him because he had a suspended license, then found a loaded, fully automatic gun in a hidden compartment of the SUV - which Bernbaum, who had a valid license, had rented from Hertz.
Transcripts of his subsequent jail phone calls with Bernbaum show that, at first, Coleman had to instruct Bernbaum how to keep the drugs and profits flowing:
COLEMAN instructs BERNBAUM how to cut fentanyl and “to do it in increments because it will turn dirty.” COLEMAN then instructs BERNBAUM on the method in which to add a cutting agent to the uncut fentanyl (“fire”) without turning it a different color (“dirty”).
But as she learned the business better, she began taking control, and at one point told him she was now in charge, which did not sit well with him:
CB: Yeah, I'm, I'm sittin' here trying to get rich, nigga. There's not all this money can go to you. I'm going to fucking get my eyebrows, my eyelashes, and my nails done tomorrow. Fuck you.
JC: Yeah. All on JC. You're welcome, big daddy.
CB: No, no, no, no, no. All on Tina. This is ... this is Tina's operation now.
JC: Yeah, right. I'll slap the shit out you.
CB: Like, the fuck? You don't ... you don't know the numbers. I'll leave ... I'll leave you what you started with. Don't worry. Everything will be paid for.
On March 4, investigators with a search warrant raided Bernbaum's Malden apartment, where they found her in bed, with her four-year-old daughter lying next to her:
On the nightstand next to BERNBAUM's bed, a few feet away from where her four-year-old daughter was located, investigators located a box of plastic bags, and within the box there were two plastic bags. One of the bags contained an amount of white rock-like substance that appeared consistent with cocaine base. The other bag contained a white powdery substance that appeared consistent with cocaine and tested positive for cocaine on a field test.
If convicted on all the charges, the two could face sentences of 30 years to life.
Complete FBI affidavit (3.3M PDF).