|Wesley Williams (left) with NC Latin Kings leader Jorge Cornell at Melvin Municipal Office Building in 2009.|
UPDATE: Latin King member Russell Kilfoil's sentencing has been continued to Oct. 9.
ORIGINAL POST: Wesley A. Williams, a former member who was part of North Carolina Latin Kings leader Jorge Cornell's close circle in Greensboro from 2008 to 2010, received a sentence of seven years in federal prison today after pleading guilty to conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise.
The 21-year-old Williams addressed US District Court Judge James A. Beaty Jr. briefing before learning his sentence.
"Isn't much to say," the defendant said. "I'm not denying the things I've done. I'm just asking the court for leniency. I want to complete my sentence and get back to my family as soon as possible."
The sentence departed from the guideline range of about eight to 10 years. Judge Beaty noted Williams' troubled upbringing while also stressing that the sentence needed to protect the public and act as a deterrent. The judge also noted that Williams benefited from his grandmother's house burning down because he earned $400 by helping a family friend who had been contracted to clean up the site.
Michael Driver, Williams' court-appointed lawyer, stressed his client background and characteristics in his statement to the court.
Driver said Williams' mother described her son's father as a "crackhead" and herself as a "functioning alcoholic" during his childhood who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Williams was 8 when he first tried alcohol, and smoked marijuana not long afterwards, Driver said. He started using powder cocaine at the age of 12.
Driver said his client was introduced to Cornell at the age of 12, and joined the Latin Kings at the age of 15, in 2008.
"Instead of doing everything in her power to keep her son away from Jorge Cornell, she drafted a custody agreement and signed her son over to Jorge Cornell," Driver said. "Most parents wouldn't have made that choice."
In the fall of 2008, Cara Williams appeared in a video produced by the Beloved Community Center that was shown during a community meeting in which she said Cornell was a positive role model for her son and encouraged him to finish high school.
Williams fled Greensboro in 2010 while facing state weapons charges related to a vehicle stop.
Driver said after his client turned 18 he was living in a weekly hotel in Las Vegas trying his best to support a girlfriend and small child.
From late 2008 to 2010, Willliams, who was known by the moniker King Bam, was frequently at Cornell's side during the Latin Kings leader's public appearances in Greensboro.
Guilford County School Board member Deena Hayes testified during the trial last year that Williams accompanied Cornell to her house for a strategy session when Cornell ran for Greensboro City Council. On at least one busy Friday night in Greensboro, Williams and Cornell staked out the corner of McGee and Elm streets to hand out quarter-page fliers promoting Cornell's candidacy.
Williams worked during his involvement with the Latin Kings as a laborer for Patriot Services in Greensboro. In December 2009, Williams was working at the Greensboro Coliseum moving mats, tires and stage pieces in preparation for a professional wrestling event when a member of the Greensboro Police Department gang unit told his employer — erroneously, as it turned out — that he was banned from city property. Later, an interim city manager publicly stated that there was no such ban.
Williams' criminal record was far from spotless during his period of involvement with the Latin Kings.
In August 2008, he was charged as a minor in a home invasion in which members of the Latin Kings broke into a man's house in the middle of the night and cracked him over the head with a bottle in what they said was retaliation for a prior attack against them. It turned out that the man had nothing to do with the attack. Under the guidance of the Rev. Nelson Johnson, Cornell wrote a letter of apology to the man.
Williams and co-defendant Richard Robinson were subjected to a vehicle stop in the spring on 2010 in which an AK-47 and shotgun were discovered in a minivan rented by Cornell. Robinson later testified that he and Williams were attempting to return the weapons to Robinson's mother after an aborting a plan to shoot into the house of former members Anthony Vasquez and Robert Vasquez.
Williams pleaded guilty, but did not agree to cooperate with the government and provide testimony against fellow Latin Kings. Williams admitted to burning down his grandmother's house for the insurance proceeds, but the jury found that arson was not part of the racketeering enterprise by the Latin Kings.
In court today, the once hefty Williams looked considerably thinner. He wearing glasses and a full beard, he smiled broadly at his defense lawyer, prosecutor Robert AJ Lang and members of the gallery. None of the defendants' family members were present, but Kristen Thompson, a friend from Greensboro, sat near the back to demonstrate support.
"You could get a college diploma while you're inside," Lang told Williams. "You've got to use it to your benefit."
Cornell and seven other defendants were sentenced last week (see previous coverage). A ninth defendant, Russell Kilfoil, is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 28.
Lang told the court that Williams looked better than he had in the nearly two years since he had been arrested and even the prior years when the government monitored him the Latin Kings.
"Mr. Williams was a troubled, young man," Lang said. "One of the reasons the government pursued this case against Mr. Cornell was this consistent recruitment of young, troubled, at-risk youth.
"It's a very sad tale of young men that were brought into this Latin King ideology and are now before this court," the prosecutor added.
After receiving the sentence, Thompson watched her friend being led away in chains.
"He seemed happy," she said, "so that's good."