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The Gangster Alpo From Spanish Harlem

By Seth Ferranti

On the back of the bike with Alpo/doin’ a back down one-two-three/hopin’ to stay alive/favorite spot, Rooftop”- LL Cool J

Alberto “Alpo” Martinez (photo above) was from East Rivers projects in Spanish Harlem, better known as the Eastside. “Alpo’s building was on 105th and First Avenue,” the Spanish Harlem hustler says. “Alpo was Puerto Rican, not Dominican. Very few people knew that because of his complexion and his swagger. Those who grew up with him in the area knew. He used to hang out in Wilson projects which were across the street. His childhood was good.”

It’s said Alpo never met his father and that he spent summers away from Harlem as a child at Fresh Air Fund camps. “Po always stood out. He went to camp. His mom was always taking him out. He was a dark skinned Puerto Rican. I called him negro. He spoke Spanish real well.” The Spanish Harlem hustler says.

“I can’t picture anyone not liking Alpo.” He continues. The nigga’s smile embraced everyone. Going to the Boys Club, he wanted to be a Marine, a cadet.” A nice white family involved in the Fresh Air Fun camps took a liking to Alpo and after the summer program was over they would send for him. This family grew to love him. They wanted to adopt him, but it wasn’t meant to be. Life had another fate for Alpo.

Alpo grew up in a single parent household, along with his three siblings. He had an older sister, a younger sister Monica, an older brother, who he had no real relations with because he was literally crazy, and his mom whom he loved dearly. “I have a wonderful mother, very strong Hispanic mother,” Alpo said.

The neighborhood was mostly black and Puerto Rican, with a few white families still living in East Rivers and the surrounding projects- Wilson, New Metro North and Old Metro North. New Metro ran from 100th Street and 1st Avenue to 102nd Street and F.D.R. East River ran from 102nd and 105th Street to 1st Avenue and F.D.R. Old Metro North ran from 101st Street and 102nd Street to 1st and 2nd Avenues. Then Wilson completed the square, running from 105th and 106th Street to 1st Avenue and F.D.R. That equated to four projects in the middle of Spanish Harlem, running the span of six New York City blocks. A lot was happening in that small area and Alpo was usually in the middle of it.

East River was the biggest of the four projects with a total of 29 buildings. Twenty-three of those buildings were six story buildings with five apartments on each floor. There were six bigger buildings that were 15 stories high, with eight apartments on each floor. It was said that East River projects was a world of its own.

“From as far as I can remember Alpo lived in East River projects, because his sister Monica used to be a cheerleader on our Pee Wee and little league baseball team.” The East River boriqua says. “His older brother Flaco was a straight nut case. Completely crazy, mental hospital type crazy. He used to freak out and go wild. They accused Flaco of trying to kill or rape some chick when he was young.

“There was always something going on in the hood, like block parties or whatever. The big park in the back of East Rivers, as well as the basketball court were the official jam spots, where DJ Dollar Bill from Wilson projects would set up shop with his equipment- two turn tables, big ass speakers and 100 extension cords hanging out of someone’s apartment window giving them juice to jam. The neighborhood was a melting pot, because we had black, white and Spanish and everyone else that had to come live there, because you weren’t there because you wanted to be there.”

Alpo went to PS5382 in the Bronx, from elementary school up to the sixth grade on the Eastside, then he attended St. Lucy’s Catholic school and went to Automotive Mechanical High School in Brooklyn for a minute. Jay-Z went there too. Alpo also attended Julia Richmond High School. But school wasn’t where he would make his name at. He had a serious jones for the streets.

“I have no idea about how he got the name Alpo,” the East River boriqua says. “I just know they called him that as far back as I can remember. That nigga went to one of those schools for troublemakers or kids who caught cases. He was a dusty kid, you know, nothing special, but not many from the hood were above the dusty level.” In New York’s Spanish Harlem  it was a hard life and Alpo did whatever he could to stand out.

“He was like 140, a little scrappy dude, liked to pay attention. As he got older, he started filling out.” The Spanish Harlem hustler says. “He took sparring and boxing lessons with Wilfredo Benitiz, but the pull of the streets was too much. Like any other kid, Alpo didn’t want to depend on his mother. He had the eye of the tiger. Po had it, like Lebron and MJ.” Alpo had street dreams and unlike others he had the heart to make them come true.

“There was definitely the Latin vibe big time in the neighborhood,” the East River boriqua says. “It was Spanish Harlem when you hit the street, you knew that the name went perfect with the place. It was the type of neighborhood where everyone knew each other. Where the local grocery store, Julios, let people take credit until the welfare check came or you got paid on Fridays.

“Some families were dirt poor and others just a notch above them, so when you’re living that kind of life day in and day out in the Mecca of the World, Manhattan, everybody wants to shine, everybody wants to rise to the ghetto superstar status. But wanting is one thing and actually going out there and making it happen is a whole other story.

“This motherfucker Alpo used to ride around the neighborhood on a ten speed doing wheelies with a mouth full of beans and a big ass straw from McDonald’s shooting everyone as he rode by with beans. Dudes wanted to be friends with him because he was always into something and kids in the neighborhood knew that people respected and somewhat feared him because he would go at it with anyone.”

As a child he robbed people and snatched pocket books. Alpo was in the life early, already in the mix by the time he was 13 or 14 years old. He was born in 1966, so by 1980 he was getting his. He had a knack for getting people to like him and he was always scheming on ways to make money. Alpo had no fear and that was attractive to older criminals.

“I had a friend on 105th that took me under his wing.” Alpo said. Alpo started as a runner. A certain O.G. had him on the corner. Alpo was the first one out on the block; it’d be early in the morning and cold as hell. Alpo was maybe 13, he was young, but he was on the street grinding. He was really street smart for such a young dude. He used to hang out on Amsterdam selling heroin packets.

“The hustle was big in Harlem and back then dope was king. Coke was second, because crack hadn’t hit the streets yet. Weed was everyone’s bread drug.” The East River boriqua says. “The local drug dealer respected everyone that lived in the buildings they hustled in front of and everyone respected him all the same. There were enemies like everywhere else, but there were some unwritten rules in the projects back then, that I’m sure don’t exist now.

“Like if you were a straight arrow dude, that didn’t agree with what was going on in front of your building, you didn’t call the cops to address the issue, you simply addressed the issue. That’s one thing about the projects, you could never underestimate the next man, because the projects were tough and there was always someone tougher than you wanting to make a name for himself.

“But even with all that, it was a beautiful place to grow up. When fights broke out between kids their whole family got it on- sisters with sisters, younger brothers with younger brothers, fathers with fathers- that was the unity that you saw in the hood.” Life wasn’t easy in Spanish Harlem, families stuck together.

“We knew Alpo personally, before anyone who isn’t from East River did. We are from the same projects as he is and witnessed firsthand what others from New York didn’t know. Before there was a Wayne Perry, there was a Randy Love who terrified the shit out of a lot of dudes in Harlem and New York period,” the Spanish Harlem hustler says. Randy Love was the friend and O.G. that took Alpo on and put him under his wing.

“Randy Love was from across the street on 105th Street and 1st Ave, Wilson projects. Randy terrorized the shit out of all of Harlem. He was a gangster that was vicious before anybody ever heard of a Wayne Perry. His reputation was that he was not to be fucked with. He was a killer and niggas knew what time it was.” The Spanish Harlem hustler says.

“Randy Love used to steal Greyhound buses from the Port Authority for fun and bring them back around the way. He used to put Alpo up to running into spots and staking out the joint, then they’d come back and rob the shit out of the Dominicans. Randy Love took Alpo under his wing, but he was mostly gone a lot, because he stayed on Rikers Island.

“I think Randy was the one who probably made him even tougher, because we all knew he was tough, but when he was starting to run with Randy, everybody knew that he was taking it to the next level. There were rumors that they were sticking up drug dealers and they robbed and killed a cash carrier that used to pick up the cash on a 112th Street dope spot. That cash belonged to the dudes from the lower Eastside and this led to a body being dropped damn near every day in the hood.” Randy Love taught Alpo a lot about the streets, but Alpo was gaining other skills that would help him also.

“I was learning to drive. I was a good driver too. I was wild, things of that nature.” Alpo said. “I was known for my driving. The first car I bought with my own money was a four door 77 Chevy Malibu. I put some music in it, turned the headers around and that was my joint. The car that really put me on the map was a Toyota Corolla. I used to drive crazy in it. I really thought it was a racecar.

“It was a blue five speed with fat wheels and a system in it. I’m talking 1981-82. I was still in Julia Richmond high school at the time. I thought I was the man. I crashed it. I didn’t hit anybody so I jumped out the joint and just left the car. I jumped in a cab and got out of there. I loved that car. I used to be at the Rooftop with that joint on the sidewalk, like it was a BMW.

“I remember I got my first BMW out of 115th. That’s when the 318 was out. I got it from a crackhead who smoked so much in my spot he had to give it to me to pay off his crack debt. It was a blue joint, with a sunroof and light gray seats. His family didn’t know he was getting high and he smoked like 10 grand in my spot. His family ended up paying me some of the money and I let it go.” The young Alpo was a gangster in training, a young reckless dude who didn’t give a fuck.

“Our everyday environment is what set the ground work for him to want to shine.” The East River boriqua says. “We all seen what the dope boys and coke stars had and how they made life in the projects look like they were living in a penthouse on 63rd Street and Central Park West overlooking the park. Everybody wanted that, Alpo just pushed toward it more. If I’m right, he came from a single parent home, just his mom. In that home he had one crazy ass brother and a younger sister. I’m sure the thoughts were for him to get some cash and get out of there so he could have his own place.

“The way that welfare apartments work is that the boys room together, so he probably had crazy ass Flaco sleeping in the room with him. Monica probably had her own room and the mom her own room. So here you are living tight as a motherfucker in the hood on 105th Street, one block from a good dope spot on 105th and 1st and 2nd Avenue.

“You damn near taste the money that is being made up the block, not to mention that we weren’t far from the upper middle class whites that lived good in Manhattan. Ninety-sixth Street was like the unofficial border of the dirt poor to middle and upper class America so we were just nine blocks away from what felt like a world away in lifestyles.” Alpo’s involvement with Randy Love led him into the stick up game and he was a natural gun thug.

“We started robbing the Dominicans together.” Alpo said. “We did stick ups. I remember when the Dominicans used to have weight up in their apartments on scales. We would rob them just for that. Because I looked so young they would just open the door. I would go in first, survey the area, and since I spoke Spanish, I would understand what they were talking about. After that, I’d tell my man the layout, where the guns were. Then we would go back.

“We were robbing them. The takes were good back then; we’d get $10 to 15 grand and half a kilo in cocaine. After the stick ups stopped we started selling dope for some big names. Then we branched off. My partner was always in and out of jail.” With Randy Love at his side, Alpo had the whole Eastside on lockdown. Dudes were shook. “He had a posse. He blew up at 15. Wore the big gold chains at age 15. From Randy Love, he learned how ruthless he had to be. He had the stick up kids in check. He worked older men. They listened and respected him.” The Spanish Harlem hustler says. “They bodied whoever the fuck got in their way. Randy Love is serving life in the state now, but back then he scared the shit out of these niggas and he and Alpo caught mad bodies together for years before Alpo met Rich Porter.”

Seth Ferranti is author of numerous true crime books, Crack, Rap and Murder: The Cocaine Dreams of Alpo and Rich Porter. is one of his latest releases. You can order it online at all bookstores or visit Ferranti’s website Gorilla Convict to get your copy there. You can also follow Ferranti on Twitter @SethFerranti

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