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Allegations, not evidence

by Eric Ginsburg

The FBI raided the home of Jorge Cornell and other members of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation in Greensboro on Dec. 6 as part of an indictment of 13 people on RICO racketeering charges. It’s far from the first time they’ve been taken away in handcuffs, but it is the most serious case that’s been built against them yet.

The majority of the more serious charges, is rarely specific and sparsely backed up by evidence. The list of charges and examples is long, but the source of any of the information is mysteriously absent, leading supporters to wonder if there is any evidence at all.

The peace treaty

The prosecution has tried to make it appear that the ALQKN’s community involvement was all just a front. That’s a pretty considerable amount of time to waste presenting in classrooms, speaking on the radio or traveling to Winston- Salem to stand with farm workers or Detroit for a conference, all of which Cornell and his people have done. The Kings have worked in community gardens, attended immigrants’ rights protests , spoken out against domestic violence, been asked to join the School Safety Committee for the county. And then there’s Cornell’s two campaigns for city council.

“The gang’s attempt to portray the Latin Kings as a public service organization did not deter the FBI and our law enforcement partners from uncovering their scheme,” FBI special agent Chris Briese said in a press release.

The indictment struck the same chord, saying there was an “attempt to disguise the criminal activities of the Latin Kings and frustrate law enforcement.” What really frustrated law enforcement was that despite repeated attempts to paint the ALKQN as a criminal organization, the charges were almost always thrown out in court.

The peace treaty and the other community work of the organization were very real. When I worked as one of Cornell’s campaign managers during his first city council campaign, I spent almost all of my spare time with him.

Occasionally we would run into a member of the Bloods or Crips, and it didn’t matter if we were walking down Elm Street or in a public housing project — Cornell was always greeted with respect.

Even street organizations like MS-13 that were never part of the peace treaty didn’t have a problem with the Kings. When the groups crossed paths accidentally, as occasionally happened in my presence, there was never any antagonism.

When Cornell was arrested downtown in August 2009, a gang squad officer claimed some of the indicted Kings were starting a conflict with Bloods by putting up hand signs, when in fact one was waving hello to me.

The indictment claims the Kings obtained guns after Cornell was shot twice for retaliation, even though he forgave his assailants. Members of the Bloods, Crips, MS-13 and other groups throughout the state have written to Cornell, saying they want peace treaties in their towns too.

One officer reportedly told two Kings that police knew it was the MS-13 who shot Cornell, despite the fact that no arrest has been made in the case. Actions like this, in conjunction with other statements by officers, serve to create tensions between people who otherwise do not have anything to fight about.

Murder

The indictment specifically claims the ALKQN has problems with the Bloods and MS-13, going so far as to claim Cornell killed an MS-13 member. There are numerous references to murder in the indictment, but where are the bodies? So far, it seems the only evidence for such claims are suspicion and hearsay.

The ALKQN believes in self-defense, just like most of us, but they don’t go out looking for fights. When the Kings previously had gun related charges, the guns legally belonged to, and were in the possession of, a member. Another time police attempted to charge Samuel Velasquez, one of the indicted, with a murder that happened while he was at work, and while this evidence was almost immediately available, he sat in a cell for five months before being released without ever going to trial.

The indictment claims the Kings have possession of at least seven specific firearms, yet no weapons or ammunition of any kind were confiscated in the FBI raid on their home.

The Kings’ most serious conflicts recently in Greensboro have been settled through mediation or by avoiding contact. I’ve made Cornell mad plenty of times, but arguably never more than I did this September. He was so mad that he told me not to contact him, and we haven’t spoken since. When it comes right down to it, he doesn’t believe in solving problems with violence.

Years ago, Cornell kicked a number of Kings and Queens out for violating ALKQN rules like selling drugs, and some have continued to commit crimes and claim they are Kings. They have arguably caused more trouble for the ALKQN than any other civilians. If Cornell orders his enemies to be killed, then why are these people still standing?

The majority of the language in the indictment is ambiguous and unclear, completely devoid of evidence. Partial quotes about “missions” and “roll up on them” or “smash” don’t add up to much, and are hardly evidence to hang any charges on.

Money

The Kings biggest problems aren’t covering up murders and armed robberies, as prosecutors would have you believe, but money. Police harassment at work has cost numerous members their jobs, including the indicted Wesley Williams, who was fired from his job after a Greensboro police officer claimed he was banned from city property. The ban was fictionalized, which the city manager later confirmed.

The Kings struggle to get by financially, and while some reverends and other friends have pitched in to help, the seemingly endless legal charges — even when they are thrown out — are expensive, though once Russell Kilfoil, also indicted, received $13,500 after being wrongfully assaulted by a security officer at the bus depot who was working indirectly for the city.

For a while, Cornell and Charles Moore, also indicted, lived with an older couple in town because even with rent assistance, they couldn’t afford a home. After Moore moved out, he moved in with friends of mine and asked around for financial support to get back on his feet.

These are not the actions of people who are committing armed robberies, bank fraud or insurance fraud as the indictment claims. If the Kings really burned down a house in July 2010 to collect part of the $96,500 insurance and committed bank fraud the same month to steal more than $2,000, where did the money go? Why are they living crammed into small houses, crashing with friends, stuck without transportation and working any awful job they can find?

Drugs

The indictment repeatedly references narcotics trafficking, but doesn’t offer any specifics about which drugs, where or when, beyond claiming Kings “sold controlled substances.” In late July and early August 2010, Greensboro police pulled over Latin Kings — including two indicted last week — on the pretext of a “gang investigation” searching for drugs. Despite taking the bumper off one vehicle and countless other searches, Greensboro police have yet to find drugs or paraphernalia.

In fact, Cornell won’t tolerate his members using drugs, let alone selling them. I’ve seen him kick people out of the ALKQN for using and selling drugs; his mother was an addict so he is serious about the rule.

Everything else

The indictment is littered with so many inaccuracies, it’s impossible to address everything.

At one point it claims Cornell and others went to a “Latin Kings conference in Detroit.” I rode the bus there with them, stayed in a hotel with the Kings and visited Cornell in the hospital after a heart attack on the trip to Detroit, and while they ran into one King from New York, we were all there to attend the United States Social Forum with tens of thousands of other people.

The misrepresentation and lack of understanding exhibited in the conference claim is indicative of the overall uninformed nature of the charges.

The organization described in the indictment seems to be straight out of “Sons of Anarchy,” a TV show I started watching this week. The indictment itself does too, with federal prosecutors stepping in with RICO charges when local law enforcement comes up short. The only problem is, the ALKQN isn’t that organization.

The indicted Kings don’t have territory to defend. The FBI raid didn’t net the mountains of cash, weapons and drugs we’ve come to expect from Hollywood, that were outlined in the indictment or that would be necessary to help prove the claims in it. Instead, the FBI came away with notebooks, clothing and other personal objects.

There are no bodies, few specific details and, for now, a complete lack of hard evidence.

We are not talking about a criminal enterprise; we’re discussing a small group of people — less than a dozen in Greensboro — some of whom may have face tattoos and an affinity for the colors black and gold, but none of whom, it seems, can be connected to any actual acts of criminality.

Supporters of the six Latin Kings who were arrested Dec. 6 are organizing a benefit film screening for Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. at Glenwood Coffee & Books to educate people about the ALKQN’s history of political organizing and to raise funds for the defendants.

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