|Russell Kilfoil in 2009|
US District Court Judge James A. Beaty Jr. overruled an objection by Kilfoil to the government's characterization of him as a leader in the Latin Kings — a distinction that carries sentencing enhancements. Prosecutor Leshia Lee-Dixon argued that Kilfoil served as "second in command" under his biological half-brother Jorge Cornell from the 2006, when he came to North Carolina at the age of 20, to the time of the indictment.
Compared to Cornell's sentencing, which drew about 20 supporters and a handful of reporters, Kilfoil's hearing today was a low-key affair. Carlos Coleman, a co-defendant whose case was dismissed, and Wesley Morris, a community organizer at the Beloved Community Center, watched from the gallery, along with an FBI agent and two Guilford County sheriff's deputies who helped the government bring down the Latin Kings as members of an anti-gang task force.
Known most commonly by his nickname Spanky, Coleman said afterwards that he could relate to Kilfoil's situation, having left the Latin Kings shortly before the indictment was issued.
"I was in the same situation," he said. "I had left myself. I was dragged back into it. I wanted to make a change for myself. Not to say that the Latin Kings were a bad organization, but here in North Carolina I was starting to see the negative."
Coleman went to the Beloved Community Center in Greensboro this morning to try to catch a ride to the federal court building in Winston-Salem. A staff member gave him some bus passes, and he ended up traveling on the PART bus.
"I wanted him to know he still got my support — always," Coleman said.
Kilfoil read a short statement before standing to receive his sentence.
"Shortly after my 25th birthday, I saw that some things needed to change," he said. "I chose to get away from the negative influence of the Latin Kings. I was planning to move with my family back to Long Island. I had a job set up with an interview with the New York Housing Authority. I was going to enroll in Nassau County Community College. I needed to return to Greensboro one last time when I was arrested by the FBI. I want to come home to my daughter, girlfriend and support group. My daughter is 4 years old. I need her as much as she needs me. I give my life to God, and I know that He has a plan for me."
Beaty sentenced Kilfoil to 15 years in prison, a downward departure from the maximum possible sentence of 20 years that the judge said reflected a need to avoid sentencing disparities considering that he had sentenced Cornell to 28 years, as opposed to the maximum length of 50 years. While overruling an objection to the characterization of Kilfoil as a manager and supervisor, Beaty said he accepted the defendant's statement that he was trying to remove himself from the bad influence of the Latin Kings at the time of his arrest.
The sentence also reflected Kilfoil's statement of remorse and a strong network of support from his adopted family, while also taking into consideration what the judge characterized as "a significant role in the activities of the Latin Kings."
Although the defendant had no involvement in a 2008 shooting and 2007 string of robberies carried out by other Latin Kings members, Beaty agreed with the government's assertion that based on his leadership role, Kilfoil should be held responsible under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act because it was reasonable to assume he knew such criminal activities would occur.
"There was a pattern that Russell Kilfoil engaged in that he not only taught the tools of the gang but directed them in their activities," Lee-Dixon said. "Mr. Kilfoil helped to run the Latin Kings with Mr. Cornell."
Lee-Dixon argued that Kilfoil's motivation for leaving North Carolina in 2011 had more to do with the fact that members had been put on notice by Latin King Jason Yates that the FBI was investigating the organization and an indictment was likely pending than any genuine change of heart.
Brian Aus, Kilfoil's court-appointed lawyer, challenged the government's assertion that Kilfoil was a leader and organizer of the Latin Kings at the time Cornell was shot by an unknown assailant in 2008. Aus said the only evidence presented to support the allegation that Kilfoil ordered Latin Kings members to obtain firearms to retaliate for the shooting of Cornell came from Jose Lugo, a paid FBI informant who taught fellow members how to make firebombs. Aus pointed out that Kilfoil called off a plot to carry out a firebombing.
He added that it was not clear who, if anybody, the Latin Kings might retaliate against and said that, in fact, the purpose of the weapons was protection.
The judge also overruled objections to references in Kilfoil's pre-sentence report to a plot to steal firearms for the purpose of shooting estranged members to check-kiting activity by Latin Kings members Richard Robinson and Wesley Williams. The government contended that Kilfoil kept in touch with Robinson and Williams by cell phone when they set out to shoot brothers Anthony and Robert Vasquez, and that he drove them to banks where they cashed bad checks.
Aus said that his client was born addicted to cocaine because of his biological mother's abuse of the drug while she was pregnant, and that he encountered academic challenges that resulted in his placement in special education. Aus also mentioned several letters of support submitted by members of Kilfoil's adopted family in New York.
"Russell was leaving the Latin Kings and was going back to New York to make a new start," Aus said. "He had had enough of his biological half-brother, Jorge Cornell. Jorge put a 'beat on site' order on Russell. It's obvious that he had had enough of the Latin Kings. The investigators told you that when he was arrested none of the Latin Kings jewelry and clothes. It should tell you something that when he was put in the cell with Jorge Cornell, the comment was made: 'Okay, he's one of us again.'"
INITIAL POST: Russell Kilfoil, a member of the North Carolina Latin Kings, has received a 15-year federal prison sentence for criminal racketeering.
US District Court Judge James A. Beaty Jr. said he was mindful of the need to avoid sentencing disparities when he gave Kilfoil a downward departure from the maximum sentence of 20 years because. In August, the judge sentenced the organization's leader — and Kilfoil's biological half-brother — Jorge Cornell to 28 out of 50 possible years. Beaty also credited Kilfoil's expression of remorse, but agreed with the government that the defendant acted in a managerial role as second in command under Cornell from 2006 to the time of the indictment in 2011.
More to come.