New York City gang members accused of abducting and brutalizing two teenage boys and a man in an anti-gay attack have been formally charged with robbery, assault, sexual abuse and unlawful imprisonment.

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Police tape marks the abandoned home in New York City that served as a clubhouse, and alleged torture chamber, for a street gang accused of anti-gay assaults. ((David Karp/Associated Press))

The eight members of the Latin King Goonies, based in the Bronx, range in age from 16 to 23.

City leaders vowed not to tolerate what they called vicious hate crimes.

The defendants did not enter pleas Sunday. However, the lawyer for one said his client denied the accusations, while a lawyer for another said his client only punched one of the victims.

The other defendants said they "were going to find out who the men are in this room and who the fags are in this room," and his client punched one complainant to avoid being attacked himself, lawyer Fred Bittlingmeyer said.

He said the situation developed because "one individual let it get out of hand."

Two of the eight could be released if they can raise a $100,000 US bond or $50,000 cash; but the other six will be held without bail.

Recruit identified as gay

Investigators alleged the gang members began the assaults after identifying a 17-year-old recruit as gay.

The teen was captured and tortured for several hours at an abandoned house that served as a clubhouse in the Bronx, police said. His older friend was also beaten, while a third victim, also 17, was sodomized with a toilet plunger, police said.

An eighth suspect was arrested Saturday, and police were looking for a ninth. The other suspects were taken into custody Thursday and Friday. Four suspects are 17 years old, a fifth is 16, two are 23 and one is 21.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a warning Saturday afternoon to anyone considering committing such crimes.

"Let me be clear to anyone who would contemplate targeting a fellow New Yorker like this," he said. "The greatest police department in the world will find you swiftly. You will be prosecuted to the full extent under the law and you will go to jail for a very long time."

People in the neighbourhood where the beatings took place said they were shocked this could happen in a community they believe to be very tolerant of minorities.

Bloomberg expressed outrage over the nature of the attacks.

"Like many New Yorkers, I was sickened by the brutal nature of these crimes and saddened by the anti-gay bias that contributed to them," he said. "The heartless men who committed these crimes should know that their fellow New Yorkers will not tolerate their vicious acts, or the hatred that fuels them."

With files from The Associated Press