Compared to the sentencing hearing for Jorge Cornell yesterday, which lasted almost four hours, the federal legal machinery made quick work of five cooperating NC Latin Kings defendants who pleaded guilty.
Marcelo Ysrael Perez, who admitted to shooting a Mexican construction worker as part of a retaliatory strike by the Latin Kings, received a 10-year prison sentence from US District Court Judge James A. Beaty Jr. during the hearing at the federal building in Winston-Salem today. The sentence combined five years for conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise with five years for use of a firearm during a violent crime in aid of racketeering. The sentence allowed a five-year sentence for assault in relation to racketeering activity to run concurrently.
Defense lawyer Jason L. Russo credited Perez's cooperation for allowing the government to make its case against the NC Latin Kings, including tacking on a 10-year mandatory minimum onto Cornell's sentence, which totaled 28 years.
"Mr. Perez and the status he held in the organization, the fact that he came in prompted others to come in and cooperate with the government," Russo said. "The superceding indictment that resulted in Mr. Cornell receiving an enhanced sentence was because of him. It was his information that gave the government the confidence to go forward with that."
Russo refuted Cornell's statement in court the previous day that he has never ordered any violent activity.
"That is entirely false," Russo said. "[Perez] has been approached by people who said, 'Mr. Cornell has ordered us to kill you. If not today, then tomorrow.'
"My client has been approached by people in prison who have transcripts of his testimony and his picture, not only Latin Kings but Bloods," Russo said. "He's had to physically defend himself. There are Latin Kings sites on the internets with directives that say they are to terminate on sight this man, whether he is incarcerated or on the street."
Judge Beaty noted before handing down the sentence that Perez had committed a serious offense, but that he had expressed remorse and provided substantial assistance to the government.
Perez, who is a songwriter and visual artist, said he has found religion in prison. He said he hopes that Rojelio Lopez, the victim of the shooting, will forgive him, and knows that God has done so.
Other defense lawyers gave similar accounts of how their clients had been threatened because of their cooperation.
James Craven, the defense lawyer for Luis Rosa, said his client's family has endured hang-up phone calls and strange cars driving by at night.
"I can't say enough good about this young man," Craven said. "This has been a god-awful learning experience for him."
Craven related that after Rosa was arrested two Latin Queens called him to make sure that he knew that his client had a serious heart condition. He mentioned it to Rosa on their first meeting.
"He said, 'No, no, I just made that up,'" Craven recalled. "The Latin Kings swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Even the Latin Kings gave him a pass because of it. He even had his girlfriend drive him to the clinic and then she picked him up around back. For my money, it was extremely clever, but it also shows how badly he wanted out."
Rosa's mother and father and his girlfriend attended the sentencing.
"Thank you for having me. I'm sorry for the circumstances. I'm just trying to get my time done so I can get back to my family."
Rosa received an active prison sentence of three years and seven months.
Afterwards, his lawyer said, "We're not going to appeal; we're going to rejoice." Leaving the courtroom, Rosa's mother reached over and squeezed the hand of Guilford County Sheriff's Deputy Nicholas Combs, who worked on the case under the supervision of the US Justice Department.
Charles Moore received a sentence of one year and eight months and an order to participate in mental health treatment, while his mother, seated beside Moore's stepfather, wiped away tears.
Moore's defense lawyer, Robert McClellan, noted that his client had a serious alcohol problem and joined the Latin Kings to avoid being homeless.
US Attorney Robert AJ Lang spoke in support of a lenient sentence. He said Moore's cooperation affirmed the government's belief that the prosecution was "in the right place and focused on the right person. Jorge Cornell, Lang said, drew in people who were vulnerable "to create an organized crime enterprise to wreak havoc in the community."
Richard Robinson, along with Perez, Rosa and Moore, received a 50 percent reduction in his sentence thanks to a letter from the government recognizing his substantial assistance in prosecuting the case.
Judge Beaty sentenced Robinson to four years in prison, in contrast to sentencing guidelines calling for eight to 10 years.
Robinson's lawyer, David B. Smith, noted that his client is an aspiring chef.
"He enrolled in two culinary art schools — one in Charlotte and one in Durham," Smith said. "He was at the one in Durham when he was arrested. He has done everything he could to turn his life around, and that began even before he was arrested."
Smith said that, unlike three of the other defendants, Robinson had no family members in the courtroom to support him, adding that his client was estranged from both of his parents. The lawyer said the geographic location of the prison where his clients would serve his sentence didn't matter because he doesn't anticipate visits from family members.
"I personally apologize to my family," Robinson told the court. "My mother, even though she raised me better, I disgraced her by my actions. I ask you to show mercy on me."
Among the five defendants on the docket for sentencing today, one did not agree to assist the government in exchange for a recommendation for time reduction.
Jason Paul Yates, a longtime rival of Cornell's for leadership of the Latin Kings, received a sentence of about 17 years. As Yates' mother, partner and daughter sat in the courtroom, the defendant's lawyer said his client took responsibility for his role in the Latin Kings' activities.
Joseph M. Wilson, Yates' lawyer, told the court his client had always worked, including stints managing retail shoe stores, even while active in the Latin Kings. He added that Yates "has taken care of his child, to the best of his ability."
"I'm remorseful for what has happened," Yates told the court. "I accept responsibility for falling back in with the wrong crowd."
The judge sentenced the 32-year-old Yates to about 17 years in federal prison — which falls in the middle of the guideline range. But the judge agreed that Yates could serve his federal sentence concurrently with an active state sentence. Yates is serving 27 years in the North Carolina corrections system for armed robbery and second-degree kidnapping.