READING — The name has popped up twice in the wake of violence in this city, whispered by witnesses and victims alike.
It’s a Dominican slang word used to describe someone’s “vibe.” Here, it’s linked to a man who police believe controls a group of criminals who would steal, even kill, at his command.
A man who, despite the glare of the international spotlight that comes with an alleged role in the shooting of a baseball hero, is believed to be hiding in the enclave of about 12,000 Dominicans who call this small Rust Belt city home.
>> To read this story in Spanish, click here.
In the Dominican Republic, Luis Rivas-Clase is a prime suspect in last week’s shooting of ex-Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.
In Reading, police describe Rivas-Clase as a crime boss facing charges of ordering the shooting of a teenager caught in a petty romantic rivalry.
“I don’t want you in Reading. Neither the police nor anyone else will stop us," Rivas-Clase spat into a voicemail in April 2018, according to court records. “We’re going to kill you. You have one week to leave Reading.”
Days later, police say, the recipient of that message was gunned down in front of his home. He survived, and in the end, they say, Rivas-Clase got his wish: The victim and his family fled Reading.
The role police say the 31-year-old played in that attempted murder was strikingly similar to the one they say he played in the brazen public shooting of Ortiz in the Dominican Republic last week.
On the island, authorities say, Rivas-Clase goes by another nickname: “El Cirujano.” The surgeon.
The Dominican National Police say Rivas-Clase helped organize and plan the June 9 attack on Ortiz. Late Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that the Dominican Republic’s lead prosecutor said Ortiz was not the intended target of the shooting. As of Wednesday, 11 suspects in the shooting have been arrested, including the admitted triggerman.
They’re still looking for Rivas-Clase. And here, 1,500 miles away, a similar hunt is on for him for the role he allegedly played in the April 2018 shooting.
“Our investigators believe he’s more of a boss," Deputy Police Chief Osborne Robinson III said in an interview. "With this shooting, he was never present at all. He just gave the order for it to happen.
“It’s apparent from this case that he calls shots,” Osborne said.
The shooting incident in Reading began when José Taveras was lured into an alley near his home by Danny Jiménez-Martínez, a friend he knew from school, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in the case.
Jiménez-Martínez said he wanted to speak with Taveras “in private,” but it was a trap: Another man, Johansel Jackson, was waiting for the pair, and told Taveras at gunpoint to get into his car.
Taveras ran, and was shot in the groin by Jackson just feet from his front door. Jackson and Jiménez-Martínez were arrested and charged in the crime.
Jackson pleaded guilty in April, and is serving a 12- to 35-year sentence in state prison. Jiménez-Martínez was killed in an unrelated shooting while out on bail, according to police.
In the course of the investigation, Robinson said, Reading police found a link to Rivas-Clase through the nickname Facha. A detective working another shooting in October heard the name. Remembering it from Taveras’ case, he went back to the teen, who played him the threatening voicemails Rivas-Clase had left him.
Police issued a warrant for Rivas-Clase’s arrest in April, a full year after Taveras’ shooting and just weeks before Ortiz’s.
Investigators say Rivas-Clase and Jackson were part of a criminal enterprise in Reading. They say Jackson and “other kids in the city” worked for him, “fishing checks out of mail boxes and [running] bank scams.” And then came the shooting.
Angelo Lee Cameron, a Center City lawyer who represented Rivas-Clase in unrelated case in October, when police say he gave a Reading officer a fake last name during a traffic stop, declined to comment on the latest allegations, citing attorney-client privilege.
For a solid month, the Berks County Sheriff’s Office received few tips as authorities looked to serve Rivas-Clase’s warrant. Then, when the Ortiz headlines reached Reading, Sheriff Eric Weaknecht was inundated.
His deputies, flanked by U.S. marshals, have been following up tips from residents about Rivas-Clase, searching several homes in the city. So far, they’ve had little luck.
“We feel there’s a good likelihood of him being here because of the friends that might keep him hidden,” Weaknecht said. “We’re telling everyone to be vigilant and keep their eyes open. We’ll follow up on each and every tip we receive, even if it’s just someone who looks like him.”
As the search for Rivas-Clase continues in Reading, there’s a mix of confusion and surprise among residents.
On Windsor Street, near the home where Rivas-Clase told police he lives, neighbors said the first time they saw him was in mugshots plastered on CNN after the shooting of the celebrated baseball player. Some speculated that he used the house as a “ghost address” to throw off investigators. No one answered the front door when reporters visited this week.
Inside the nearby Quisqueya Grocery, a Dominican native who’s lived in Reading for 20 years said the block is quiet and tranquil. And his neighbors wouldn’t tolerate anything else.
“We know well the people who live around here and their behavior," said the man, who asked not to be identified because he feared reprisal. “Unless the person comes from another place, that is.”
Elsewhere, leaders in the Dominican community say the attention being given to Reading during the manhunt hasn’t changed daily life.
Pablo Ramírez, the owner of Dominicana Taxi Express, said most people in the city remain “at ease.” His assessment carries weight: His company, which he founded in 2012, serves as an unofficial lifeline for Dominican immigrants, providing leads on jobs, churches, and other services with every fare.
“The reality is that this affects the tourist industry there,” Ramírez, 59, said. “People here keep going to work and go out at night. The community here is very calm with this.”