Day 13: North Carolina Latin Kings on trial

CORRECTION: This post reported in error that FBI Special Agent Doug Rentz met Latin King member Tracy Weyman in Thomasville in September 2011. In fact, Rentz testified that he met Weyman in September 2012. The distinction is critical because September 2012 was after the racketeering indictment was unsealed against the Latin Kings in December 2011.

Rentz testified on Thursday that Weyman gave him a letter from Jason Yates to Cornell that indicated the FBI had been investigating the Latin Kings and that an indictment might be in the offing. Weyman testified today (Friday) that she doesn't remember if she gave the letter to Rentz. Weyman testified that she was appearing in court under subpoena and indicated by her demeanor that she was unhappy about being called to testify. 

ORIGINAL POST: The Rev. Nelson Johnson led a group of about 20 Greensboro residents in expressing concerns about the Greensboro Police Department’s response to an incident in which North Carolina Latin Kings leader Jorge Cornell was shot in August 2008 during a press conference Thursday morning in front of the federal building in Winston-Salem.

Cornell and five other Latin Kings members are being tried on federal criminal racketeering charges. A motion by Cornell’s court appointed lawyer, Michael Patrick, two weeks ago indicated that a Greensboro police employee told prosecutors that one of the prospective defense witnesses had told her that he shot Cornell. Patrick also submitted to the court a Greensboro Police Department e-mail obtained through a public records request by the ALKQN Support group that contains a narrative describing an encounter by a police officer with a Latin King with Chicago connections who indicated he had been sent to kill Cornell.

AJ Blake, a former member of the Greensboro Police Department gang unit who was fired in 2010, has indicated in a complaint filed with Greensboro City Manager Denise Turner Roth that police employee Patricia Caffey told Assistant US Attorney Robert AJ Lang that he shot Cornell. Blake said the statement is completely false and asked Roth to investigate Caffey for violations of truthfulness, malicious gossip and other department directives to repair his reputation.

An Officer Trimnal with the Greensboro Police Department said that he encountered an intoxicated Latin King member stranded on a roadside in Greensboro in November 2010 who said Cornell, in Trimnal’s words, “was about to be ‘taken out’” and “that this ‘shit comes from high up/within.’” Trimnal said in the narrative that he had no charges on which to arrest the man, identified as Gorge Cardenas, and helped him move his vehicle out of the roadway.

“What investigation was generated from this?” Johnson asked. “If indeed Jorge Cornell was shot – and he has been shot – and someone says he’s there to kill Jorge Cornell, we think it merits an investigation. We think the Greensboro Police Department owes an explanation to the public.”

Johnson also said that since the e-mail surfaced, the police department has frozen release of public documents related to the case at the request of the US Attorney’s Office.

“We think this is a violation of citizens’ right to know and part of a protective mechanism to shield the police department from scrutiny,” he said. “Why shouldn’t the public know about someone on the side of the road that says he is here to kill Jorge Cornell?”

Charles Cherry, a former Greensboro police captain who was also fired in 2010, also spoke at the press conference. Cherry said that legitimate complaints against Greensboro police officers are not investigated, citing a complaint he filed against Assistant Chief Dwight Crotts.

Johnson also commented on how Cornell’s representation of himself as someone intent on promoting peace among street organization and on uplifting the community squares with testimony by Latin Kings who have said that Cornell ordered retaliatory strikes against rival groups and ex-members, and took proceeds from robberies.

“I have met the people that are turning evidence for the state,” Johnson said. “I have visited them in jail, and they’ve talked to me about some of those things. They are fighting for their lives, fighting against 15-to-20-year sentences, so they may be stretching the truth.”

Johnson also said that he and other pastors have tried to help Latin Kings obtain employment and housing, while the Greensboro Police Department has tried to hinder them from legitimate employment. Cornell had been living in “sheer poverty,” Johnson said, adding that a member of Genesis Baptist Church had agreed to rent a house to the group before they were arrested on racketeering charges.

One of those cooperating witnesses, Charles Lawrence Moore, finished up his testimony on Thursday morning.

Moore said Cornell ordered him and other Latin Kings to beat up Allan Jordan, a former member, and that they drove over to the Target store where Jordan was employed, but it was closed and there were no cars in the parking lot. Moore testified that an audio recording played for the jury on Wednesday that referenced “Target” had been made prior to the group’s arrival at the store.

Under cross-examination, Moore contradicted Richard Robinson, a fellow Latin King who is also turning the state’s evidence, a second time (see previous post). Moore testified that he and two other Latin Kings had been at Guilford County Court when they assaulted Anthony Vasquez “to make sure that nobody tried to do anything to Mr. Robinson while he was there.”

Robinson, who became close friends with Moore as JobCorps workers before they joined the Latin Kings, testified last week that Moore, along with defendants Russell Kilfoil and Carlos Coleman, had actually been there to intimidate him because he was in bad standing with the Latin Kings at the time.

During cross-examination defense lawyers elicited testimony from Moore that suggested the witness tended to commit criminal acts on his own and without Cornell and other members’ blessing. Moore also testified that Cornell and others benefactors took him into their homes during several episodes in which he was at risk of homelessness and that Cornell tried to help him cut down on his drinking.

Moore testified that the Latin Kings maintained rules against selling drugs and robbing people. Later in the exchange, Patrick referenced a period when Moore stayed with a couple in an apartment at Smith Homes.

“At that point you were living with a member of the Bloods who was selling marijuana,” Patrick said.

“Yes,” Moore replied.

“And you were selling marijuana yourself.”


Moore also testified that he and Robinson eventually told Cornell about a check-kiting scheme they undertook, but tried to keep it a secret from him for a time.

Patrick attempted to blunt the damage from testimony by Moore and Robinson that Cornell had ordered a drive-by shooting on the apartment where the Blood member was staying to avenge a beating received by Moore.

“After you left Smith Homes, did Mr. Cornell make an effort to work out that problem without retaliation?” Patrick asked.

“No,” Moore responded.

“Did you ever talk to Saralee Gallien and May Young about that effort?” Patrick asked.

“No,” Moore said.

Gallien and Young, with whom Moore briefly stayed last year, are expected to testify for the defense once the government rests its case.

Moore admitted that he was disciplined in the Latin Kings for his abuse of alcohol.

“King Jay put me on a program where he determined when you can and cannot drink,” he said.

Patrick also poked some fun at the prosecution’s decision on Wednesday to introduce as evidence a YouTube video showing Latin Kings marching in Detroit in June 2010 and the government’s characterization of the event as a “Latin Kings conference” in the indictment.

“That wasn’t a Latin Kings conference,” Patrick prodded.

“It was a Social Forum,” Moore testified. He added, “It was just everybody that wanted to do something about the community.”

“And that includes the Latin Kings,” Patrick said.

“Yes,” Moore agreed.

Under cross-examination by Patrick Moore testified that the Rev. Nelson Johnson and Wesley Morris attended the US Social Forum. He didn't recall the names of other people, but indicated there were a sizeable number of other participants in addition to the handful of Latin Kings by virtue of the fact that a bus was chartered for the trip. Johnson and Morris are both employed with the Beloved Community Center, a non-profit social justice organization.

For the remainder of the day, the government presented evidence and testimony that was intended to establish an association among the defendants and build the case that their activities interfered with interstate and foreign commerce.

The latter aspect was the reason for calling Michael Stevenson, the director of loss prevention at Variety Wholesalers. In previous testimony, cooperating defendants had described stealing merchandise off of a truck parked outside Rose’s department store, a wholly owned subsidiary of Variety Wholesalers. Among other things, the government is required to establish that the activity of the defendants affected interstate and foreign commerce to prove a racketeering enterprise.

Asked by Lang about the origin of photo frames, soft drinks and shirts – items that Latin Kings have referenced as being stolen in previous testimony -- Stevenson testified that they had come from outside of North Carolina.

“All of the photo frames that we sell are made in China,” he said, “so they are shipped into a port and transported to our distribution center.”

The drinks, he said, came from Pennsylvania. As for the shirts, he said, “I don’t really know where all of them come from. But if you look at the labels it says Bangladesh, Vietnam, China and Poland. They’re shipped into New York, and brought down to our distribution center.”

Testimony from Richard Taylor Dixon, a former corrections officer at the Person County Jail, and Antwan Lloyd, a prisoner, appeared to be for the purpose of establishing that defendants were members of the Latin Kings. In his opening statement, defense lawyer Patrick told the jury there was no doubt that the defendants were members of the Latin Kings, and none would deny that Cornell was the leader.

Testimony from FBI Special Agent Doug Rentz about items of yellow and black clothing seized from the residences of defendant Russell Kilfoil in December 2011 built on that theme.

Rentz also said he recovered a piece of paper from Russell Kilfoil’s residence containing an individual’s name underscored by an “X” and the notation “green light.”

Lang asked what “green light” meant.

“It’s the go-ahead to beat on site or terminate on site that individual,” Rentz responded.

Rentz testified that he also recovered shotgun shells from among Kilfoil’s possession.

“Is it illegal to purchase shotgun shells?” Brian Aus, Kilfoil’s court-appointed lawyer, asked.

“Not unless you’re a prohibited person,” Rentz responded.

“Was Mr. Kilfoil a prohibited person?” Aus asked.

“I don’t believe he was,” Rentz said, “but I’m not sure.”

Rentz also testified that in June 2011 the US Attorney’s Office advised Jason Paul Yates “we were looking at an indictment against the Latin Kings in Greensboro, and asked if he would want to cooperate.”

Yates, a co-defendant who will stand trial separately because his court-appointed lawyer was unprepared to go forward with the others, has been characterized in previous testimony as a bitter rival with Cornell for control of the North Carolina Latin Kings.

Rentz testified that he met Tracy Weyman, also known as Queen Smiley, at the Thomasville Inn in September 2012, and that Weyman gave him a letter from Yates to Cornell warning that the FBI was investigating the Latin Kings and that an indictment might be coming.

Rentz said he learned there had been a shotgun at the residence of Kilfoil’s girlfriend, Dana Scott, but testified that he was unable to locate any firearms in the course of executing a search warrant. High Point police Detective Dennis Szentmariay, a member of the FBI Safe Streets Task Force, testified earlier in the week that a raid on a Latin Kings house in Greensboro during the same period also failed to recover any firearms.

The government ended the day by putting FBI employee Tara Cataldo, described as a “cyber agent,” on the witness stand. Her testimony, which was tedious overall, covered investigative procedures for mining data from the defendants’ Facebook pages, and was apparently designed to establish relationships among the defendants.

Out of thousands of pages of Facebook data that Cataldo said she obtained from Facebook, the cyber agent cited only a couple messages that appeared to be benign at best and ambiguous at worst.

One exchange between defendant Carlos Coleman and an individual named Jonathan Hernandez begins with Hernandez saying, “Oh yeah, you need to understand that you can’t get out of this. King’s word is gold. You need to stop tripping and handle what you got to handle.”

Coleman responded, “ADR, we will talk in person. Why you talking about nation affairs on Facebook? You need to inbox me.”

“ADR,” which stands for “amor del rey,” or “love of the king,” is a standard Latin King greeting.

Another Facebook message from defendant Samuel Velasquez to Hernandez reads, “King Peace: ADR, bro. What’s good? You like that lion ha ha – the peaceful lion. You like that lion.”

After Judge James A. Beaty dismissed court for the day, Lang apologized to Cataldo in the hallway for causing her to give up her afternoon to testify.

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