Luis Alberto Rosa took the stand in leg irons and an orange jail jumpsuit. He testified that he came to Greensboro from Queens, NY in 2006, and remained involved off and on with the North Carolina Latin Kings through December 2011 when the federal indictment was unsealed,
Rosa calmly and clearly described an organization in which state leader Jorge Cornell facilitated robberies and shared in the spoils. He testified about an incident in which Cornell rashly grabbed a firearm and started shooting at rival gang members. In detailed anecdotes he sketched for the jury a picture of a disciplined and organized group that vetted prospective members across the state, attempted to bring unaffiliated Latin Kings under its control at pains of physical violence where diligent care was taken to ensure that members who caught criminal charges didn’t implicate others.
Rosa’s testimony runs counter to a proclamation by Cornell, also known as King Jay, during a 2008 press conference that he maintained a “strong policy” against robbing and killing, and it conflicts with the public stance taken by the Latin Kings leader that he wanted to promote peace between street organizations. It doesn’t quite square with the reputation Cornell gained in the community for promoting black and Latino unity, seeking employment opportunities for marginalized young people or encouraging them to advance their educations and acquire job skills. Nor does it match exactly with the experience of many Greensboro acquaintances who knew Cornell and his circle to be almost destitute and often depending on the charity of others for survival.
Rosa, who is now 25, said he joined the Latin Kings in New York at the age of 12, learning the structure and symbology of the organization before receiving his “crown,” or full membership. He said the New York tribe "that I was involved with weren't going around robbing or shooting or nothing like that."
He moved to Greensboro in June 2006 and was working at Smokey Bones restaurant on High Point Road as a greeter and busser when he spotted someone at a gas station wearing the black and gold beads that distinguish the Latin Kings. Rosa said he introduced himself by his street name, King Speechless, and the two saluted each other by throwing up crown signs with their hands. By mutual agreement, Rosa met Anthony Vasquez, AKA King Menace, who was the first crown, or leader, of the Greensboro tribe at the time. Vasquez told Rosa that Cornell was the statewide leader and would want to meet him. A second meeting was arranged that night at the AT&T building in downtown Greensboro.
“At first they searched me to make sure I didn’t have any weapons,” Rosa recounted. “I had a conversation with Jay to get verified. He had to call someone in New York to make sure I was in good standing. He stepped away to talk, but I was standing nearby. Then he handed the phone back to me and the guy on the other end of the line said, ‘You’re good, bro. Take care.’”
Rosa is one of seven defendants who have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government in the case.
Rosa testified that he committed three armed robberies in 2007 with Ernesto Wilson, one of the seven remaining defendants. Rosa said Cornell recommended that he and others rob the GMAC/Cornerstone insurance agency on West Market Street in Greensboro, going so far as to tell them where to find a bag of money based on information provided by a former employee. Rosa said he, Wilson — known to him as “Yayo” — and two others carried out the robbery, and shared the proceeds among themselves and with Cornell.
He said he, Yayo and others robbed the Musica Latina store in High Point. Rosa said that Yayo told a woman in the store to “shut the f*ck up” and grabbed her by the hair while taking money from her. After leaving the store, they met Cornell at an apartment off of Kivett Drive, and Rosa said he angered Cornell by transferring a bag full of guns and money from his 2002 Volkswagen Jetta to Cornell’s silver Nissan Sentra. Then they went back to a house where Cornell was staying on Keeler Street in Greensboro and divided the money, cutting Cornell in, considering that they had “brought the heat to his house.”
Some of the jurors looked visibly disturbed as Rosa described a robbery at $2.50 Cleaners on High Point Road in Greensboro. The jury had heard emotional testimony on Monday from the store operator, John Cho, and had seen photographs of the robbers and of Cho bleeding from the head as a result of being struck by the butt of a handgun. Rosa identified the person who assaulted Cho as Wilson.
Under cross-examination from two of the defense attorneys, Rosa admitted to lying to police about the incident after they tracked the Jetta to Rosa’s mother’s house based on a license plate number provided by a witness. The defense is likely to use that admission to assail Rosa’s credibility during final arguments. Rosa said he untruthfully told investigators that he was essentially carjacked by strangers and forced to drive to the crime scene.
Rosa ended up serving time for the crime. After completing his sentence, he said he tried to avoid his King brothers so that he could stay out of trouble. He testified that he was working at EarthFare in Greensboro in 2008 when Russell Kilfoil, one of Cornell’s biological brothers and a defendant in the racketeering case, came in the store.
“He told me that I needed to report,” Rosa testified. “I met everybody at Natty Greene’s. I got searched. We walked to Center City Park. I told them what happened. We reconciled. I met Jay at a pizza shop that night.”
Rosa also said that Cornell and the rest of the Greensboro leadership required him to produced documentation of the case so they could confirm that he did not cooperate with law enforcement.
In other incidents Rosa said he traveled with Cornell and others to Lumberton to meet a Latin King there and “bring him under our wing.” He said he and others received orders to go to a shopping mall in Asheboro to see if they could find anyone claiming to be Latin Kings, and tell them to report to Cornell’s organization. If they refused, Rosa testified, they had orders to “smash them out,” or administer a beating.
In June 2008, the Pulpit Forum, a group of Greensboro pastors, called a press conference at the Beloved Community Center to publicize an effort by Cornell to bring together street organizations. It was Cornell’s first public appearance, and set the stage for a highly publicized conflict with the Greensboro Police Department gang unit that was sometimes played out during Cornell’s two unsuccessful runs for city council.
“You always have one that wants to break up this beautiful thing because not everybody wants peace,” Cornell said in 2008. “So what I’m asking these leaders to do is, if you got one that’s going to start trouble with the other, don’t let those two get physical. And if it does, don’t let it cause a war. Let’s bring it to the attention of those leaders, and let those leaders deal with their own. And if that means kicking them out, that’s what it means.”
Rosa’s testimony suggested that, at least in February 2007, restraint was not Cornell’s stance.
Rosa said that King Menace, who is Anthony Vasquez, was having some conflict at Smith High School with Sur-13 members. Rosa testified that two carloads of Latin Kings ran into the Sur-13 members in a Hardee’s parking lot. The two groups agreed to meet at Cinnamon Ridge Apartments in Greensboro to fight, he said.
“I parked and went into a wooded area,” Rosa testified. “They followed us. They stopped, I guess, because we outnumbered them. Jay just went crazy. He said, ‘Yo, f*ck that. Just shoot ’em.' Jay took the gun and shot at them.”
Rosa testified that everybody scattered and about seven Latin Kings piled into Cornell’s Nissan Sentra. When Rosa returned to pick up his Volkswagen Jetta he found the back passenger window shot out.
Rosa testified briefly about an alleged arson involving a former Latin Kings residence on Kirkman Street. Rosa said Cornell discussed the idea with Wesley Williams, a Latin King member who the leader legally adopted. Cornell, Rosa, Williams and others lived together on Terrell Street at the time.
“Jay would bring up with him that they were broke,” Rosa testified. “And — he didn’t actually say it — but he said he should go burn down the house at Kirkman Street.”
Under cross-examination, Rosa acknowledged that he is facing about 50 years of prison for crimes of violence, and that he hopes to receive substantial assistance from the court to reduce his sentence in exchange for his truthful testimony. Michael Patrick, Jorge Cornell’s public defender, pressed Rosa with mixed results to acknowledge that he would need a recommendation from the prosecution to obtain substantial assistance, and the prosecution would be the judge of whether he was truthful.
Assistant US Attorney Robert AJ Lang also asked Rosa what he hoped to get out of his testimony.
“I don’t know,” Rosa responded. “Get away from the Latin Kings for good.”
The jury also heard from Greensboro police Cpl. Justin Flynt, who responded that he responded to a larceny call at the Food Lion grocery on Coliseum Boulevard. The officer said he found a uniformed store employee and Cornell, who “was very verbal and animated, and standing close to the employee — in what I would consider personal space.” He also saw some individuals wearing black and gold beaded necklaces, and a person who he identified in court as Ernesto Wilson. Flynt testified that Cornell offered to pay for the groceries if the store would agree to drop charges against Wilson.
Rosa also testified that Wilson, whom he identified as a participant in at least three robberies, was never a Latin King and the two did not salute each other as was customary for members who had received their crowns.
Early in the day defense attorneys attempted to shred the credibility of Anthony Vasquez, a former Latin Kings member who testified that he has been paid more than $2,500 by the government for his cooperation beginning at about the time he separated from the Latin Kings in late 2008 or early 2009.
Patrick questioned Vasquez’s testimony under direct examination on Monday that under orders from Cornell he sold powder cocaine at the Paraiso club at the ages of 13 and 14.
“Did it sell beer?” Patrick asked.
“Yes,” Vasquez responded.
“How did you get in?”
“I didn’t,” Vasquez said. “I would be outside.”
Cornell has said over the years that he maintained a strict policy against selling drugs in the Latin Kings.
“What does the manifesto say about selling drugs?” Patrick asked.
“It’s not allowed,” Vasquez replied.
“So you were doing something contrary to the manifesto?”
Like Rosa, Vasquez testified that he lied to the Greensboro Police Department about the $2.50 Cleaners robbery.
Vasquez’s testimony under cross-examination likely undermines the government’s allegation that defendants used violence “to promote and enhance the enterprise’s prestige, reputation and position in the community.”
Russell Kilfoil’s public defender, Brian Aus, asked Vasquez about his various fights with Sur-13 members.
“These were not fights to further the Latin Kings, were they?” he asked.
“No,” Vasquez responded.
“These were fights because two members butted heads.”