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Saturday, 13 December 2008

Hidden Valley Kings sentenced to over 20 years

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Gang-tied crimes net hefty sentences
Judge hands down prison terms in Charlotte drug ring for 6 men accused of being Hidden Valley Kings.Suspected members of Charlotte's most notorious home-grown gang were sent to prison Tuesday for a sophisticated drug operation that for years terrorized the Hidden Valley neighborhood.Six men identified by federal authorities as members of the Hidden Valley Kings along with one of the gang's alleged drug suppliers were sentenced to between 10 and 25 years in prison.“This gang turned a nice neighborhood into a shooting gallery,” said U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney, admonishing the gang's reputed leader. “Your organization was responsible for at least three murders, maybe more. Those murders are just horrendous.”Roscoe Abell, 30, the alleged leader, was the first of 18 people scheduled to be sentenced this week. He got 20 years in prison.His alleged Lieutenant, 25-year- old Emmanuel Keller, got 24 years.With nicknames like “Sweets,” “Beat-A-Man” and “The Rock,” the alleged gang members pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell crack, cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana.Prosecutors portrayed the Kings as a well-organized gang that controlled the streets of the northeast Charlotte neighborhood, extorting money, selling drugs and threatening to kill any associates that snitched on them.They sought to control all drug dealing in Hidden Valley and surrounding areas, dividing turf into zones and requiring dealers to pay “block taxes” to sell there, according to court documents.Authorities broke up the Kings last year, indicting 20 gang members or associates, in what had been Charlotte's largest crackdown on gang crime since agents busted the Outlaw motorcycle gang in the 1980s. This summer, authorities nabbed 26 members of MS-13, a violent gang with roots in El Salvador.Organized in the early 1990s, the Kings are not affiliated with any national gang, and police have documented more than 125 members.
“This gang had a stranglehold on the good people in that neighborhood,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Zolot told the judge Tuesday.Hidden Valley is a subdivision of about 12,000 people with modest ranch homes on streets with storybook names: Snow White Lane, Cinderella Road, Friendly Place.It began as a middle-class neighborhood in the 1960s and became one of Charlotte's first integrated neighborhoods in the 1970s. But over the years, as some residents moved out and many homes became rentals, the community has struggled with crime.Judge Whitney called the Kings “a group of local terrorists.”He noted that the leader, Abell, had a bullet proof vest. “That's a stunning piece of evidence about the sophistication of this gang,” the judge said.The gang also has been linked to fights, car thefts, break-ins and murders, including a high-profile killing in 2005 that began as a fight at Eastland Mall and ended in a rolling shootout along North Tryon Street.
On Tuesday, the streets of Hidden Valley were quiet as people came home from work, and some homes were draped with Christmas lights.Longtime resident William Mustafa said he's glad things are better but wishes Charlotte had stepped in before these young men took up gang life.“More could have been done or should have been done to give these young men some outlets instead of spending all that money to put them in jail,” said Mustafa, chairman of the Hidden Valley neighborhood association.
Not everyone sentenced Tuesday was a gang member. Danielle Jermaine Jackson, accused of selling drugs to the gang, got the harshest sentence: 25 years and 10 months.
“I want to apologize to the court and my family for the things I've done in the past and the choices I made,” Jackson, 26, told the judge.His attorney, Lyle Yurko, praised the government for bringing down the Hidden Valley Kings, saying: “Violent street gangs in America are a form of terrorism.”
On Tuesday, friends and family turned out for the sentencings, as the defendants were individually paraded into court.As Abell was led from the courtroom, he smiled and waved goodbye to his mother, Dot Abell, and two sisters.“It hurts,” said Dot Abell, who teared up outside the courthouse. “I won't be able to see him for 20 years. I won't be able to talk to him.”Mary Chisholm, Keller's grandmother, didn't think her grandson deserved so much prison time.“They're taking away his whole life,” she said. “That's too harsh. That's not justice.”Two others sentenced Tuesday received 20 years: Lorenzo “Big Zo” Johnson, 26, and Chavius “The Rock” Barber, 25.
Alonzo “Lil' Zo” Johnson, 24, got 13 years.And Jermer “Beat-A-Man” Lowery, 28, was sentenced to 10 years.“It doesn't pay to be a gang member. It doesn't pay to be a drug dealer,” prosecutor Zolot said during a court break Tuesday. “Eventually, authorities will root out the gang members in our community.”

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