The Fast Life and Near Death of Nica

He was raised to be a soldier by the contras in Nicaragua. When he came to South Florida, he found his calling as a gang warlord.

Nica's activities did not go unnoticed. In 1993 the State Attorney's Office launched a grand jury investigation into the gang problem in Broward County, while police authorities formed the Multi-Agency Gang Task Force. "Every week in Broward from '93 on, we had three to five drive-by shootings every single week," Pineda says. "They were going rabid." Pineda homed in on what he believed to be the three worst gangs in the county at the time: the Crips, the IN/P, and La Familia. It was Pineda, in fact, who first branded Nica the "godfather" of the Crips.

"Like I was John Gotti or something," Nica scoffs. "I wasn't wearing no suits."

By his own accounting, Nica's crimes were strictly street-level. He didn't steal cars, he says, because he always had his own. He does admit to dealing crack cocaine for several months. He says he used the crack profits -- usually about $150 per night -- to buy powder cocaine. Then he'd go to clubs and play the role of big shot, which he loved. Nica also burglarized houses, shoplifted, and robbed a few stores with a kid who had a knack for sneaking into back offices and grabbing whatever cash was in the safe.

A life in pictures (clockwise from top left): Wilbert as a boy in Nicaragua, before the war ripped through his town; as snapped by the gang task force not long before the hit-and-run (note the scar over right eye caused by a rival slamming him with a car); near death after the hit-and-run; Nica with his new face, and a new life
A life in pictures (clockwise from top left): Wilbert as a boy in Nicaragua, before the war ripped through his town; as snapped by the gang task force not long before the hit-and-run (note the scar over right eye caused by a rival slamming him with a car); near death after the hit-and-run; Nica with his new face, and a new life
Wilbert as a boy in Nicaragua, before the war ripped through his town (top), and as snapped by the gang task force not long before the hit-and-run (note the scar over right eye caused by a rival slamming him with a car);
Wilbert as a boy in Nicaragua, before the war ripped through his town (top), and as snapped by the gang task force not long before the hit-and-run (note the scar over right eye caused by a rival slamming him with a car);

Nica says he never carried a gun, a claim police back. But his fellow Crips did. In May 1993 two Crips, out peddling crack in a stolen Blazer, gunned down an eighteen-year-old named Michael Bush. Demond Ruise, who fired the shot that killed Bush, is serving a life term in prison.

Nica admits he used to run the streets with Ruise but says he knows nothing about the crime: "They were soldiers just like me, and they did that on their own."

A month later a Crip named Eric Reyes, a Salvadoran immigrant nicknamed Cholo, committed the next slaying. Reyes, age nineteen, was a troubled kid who was living with Nica when the murder occurred. "He was crazy," Nica says. "I mean insane. But he would listen to me. He had respect for me and only me."

One day while Nica was at work, Reyes and three other Crips went on a spree of drunken violence that culminated in the slaying of 25-year-old Mario Rivera, who made the mistake of telling the Crips to get off his lawn. The four returned with a Street Sweeper -- an illegal, semiautomatic shotgun -- and Reyes shot Rivera in the face from a distance of four feet. They fled in Nica's car to Maryland. Reyes is still at large. "I wish I would have been there," Nica says, "because I would have stopped those fuckers."

But Nica the godfather didn't really have much control of his own soldiers, let alone rival gang members. By the time he was seventeen years old, he was forced to move out of his uncle's home, because his enemies had sprayed it with bullets, narrowly missing an elderly relative, and had firebombed his car. "Wilbert kind of pissed off the world out there," Pineda says dryly.


To understand the scope of Nica's ambition, consider his master plan: He wanted the Crips to join forces with the IN/P. Together they would destroy the Zulu 6 and the Evil Nation. Then Nica would turn the Crips against the IN/P. Nica wanted to conquer the streets. He even managed to broker a meeting between Crips and the IN/P.

But Pineda's task force got wind of the plot and crashed the meeting, where an estimated 70 gang members had gathered.

Nica's next scheme was a little more focused. He decided to go after reputed IN/P leader Lionel Gonzalez. Gonzalez got under Nica's skin, especially because he lived in the heart of the Crips' 'hood. But Gonzalez was nobody to be messing with. In a gang fight in Miami three years earlier, Gonzalez, then sixteen years old, shot and killed somebody. As a "youthful offender," he served less than a year in prison.

This didn't deter Nica. He challenged Gonzalez, who was six feet tall and weighed 200 pounds, to a fight on the street near Gonzalez's house. "He tried to kick me, but I broke his kick. Then he got me to the ground. You know, he was bigger than me. And he held me down and he hit me in the face," Nica recalls. "Then I got up and I hit him and his lip was bleeding. Then it was over. I just told him, 'I'll see you on the rebound. I'll see you again.'"

Nica got the worst of it -- his lip was cut and he had a black eye -- and he wasn't about to let it go. He began stalking Gonzalez, challenging him to a rematch every time he saw him. "They were bound to hit each other sooner or later," Pineda says of the two. "I don't know which one was more crazy."

Gonzalez, now 25 years old and recently out of prison following a gun conviction, says he never wanted to fight Nica. He says he respected the Crips' leader until Nica set out to destroy him. "He wanted to bang me," says Gonzalez, who claims he was never in a gang at all. "But I wouldn't let him bang me."

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