Latin Kings: Case closed, story unfinished

by Jordan Green

It’s been more than two years since Jorge Cornell and several fellow Latin Kings were rounded up in a federal raid after his unsuccessful campaign for Greensboro City Council. More than a year since Cornell, known as King Jay, was found guilty of three counts of criminal racketeering. More than four months since Jay was sentenced to 28 years in prison — not the maximum of 50 years that he might have served, but a near eternity for a 36-year-old man nonetheless.

Russell Kilfoil, Jay’s younger brother who is known as Peaceful, is serving a 15-year sentence.

One might conclude that the final chapter in the story of the North Carolina Latin Kings is completed, the book closed. Some people, including employees of law enforcement and citizens who didn’t care for Jay’s provocative style, no doubt would be happy to never hear the man’s name again. But reality is never that simple. There are still children left behind by the defendants who need to be raised, spouses and life partners picking up the pieces, supporters helping out when they can by picking up youngsters from school.

And there is the narrative — the real sinew of lives lived on the ground far removed from the sky-view vantage of high-powered federal prosecutors — that can’t be contained in legal case files.

Peaceful’s court-appointed lawyer told a story that was likely calibrated to generate sympathy from the judge and yield as much leniency as possible.

“Russell was leaving the Latin Kings and was going back to New York to make a new start,” the lawyer told the judge. “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.”

It’s a lawyer’s job to put a human face on his client by emphasizing both admirable and fallible qualities — and to distance that client as much as possible from the alleged criminal enterprise, the proverbial “bad crowd” he fell in with. Even if the principal person in that enterprise or crowd is his brother.

The presence in the courtroom gallery at Peaceful’s sentencing of King Spanky, a former co-defendant named Carlos Coleman whose case had been dismissed, at Peaceful’s sentencing hinted at another side of the story.

“I wanted him to know he still got my support — always,” Spanky said, while noting that he could empathize with Peaceful’s desire to disentangle himself from the Latin Kings.

It seemed curious that Spanky should be feel compelled to show support for a fellow Latin King. After all, one of the cooperating defendants had testified that the organization had once put Spanky on “trial” and that he had encountered two members with machetes raised above his head when it came time to face judgment as part of a rescinded execution.

When I met Spanky after Peaceful’s sentencing, he told me that the story was part of a fabric of lies told by the cooperating defendants as part of an effort to smear Jay.

“In no shape, form or fashion did anyone try to take my life,” he said.

Spanky was threatened with expulsion, and he told me the other members ultimately decided to impose physical discipline and strip him of his leadership position in Raleigh.

That account doesn’t exactly indict the Latin Kings as an organization, but in fact corroborates the claim Jay has made all along that he was trying to steer his members away from criminal activity and to promote peace.

“They had a lot of frustration with me,” Spanky said. “I was robbing people, getting into altercations with Blood members. I remember Jay saying, ‘It’s always something different with you. You’re always getting into something.’” Spanky’s account dovetails with what King Lio, one of the defendants named Steaphan Asencio-Vasquez who pleaded guilty without cooperating, told INDY Week reporter John H. Tucker. Lio was one of a handful of Latin Kings who were implicated in a string of robberies carried out in Greensboro and High Point in early 2007.

“I took a liking to King Jay,” Lio told Tucker.

“He was like a father figure to me in a street type of way. Him and the brothers like King Peaceful were always on some s***, like quit smoking weed and get a job and stop that bulls*** at school. (Like I said, I used to fight a lot.) They told me no King should be walking around looking dusty and havin’ no money in their pocket. That made me feel bad. So — me being young and dumb — I decided to go rob more. Had I had enough sense, I would’ve just gotten a job.”

As he completes his prison sentence, Lio says he is now preaching “the same positive s*** I wasn’t trying to hear from King Jay.”

Spanky’s attitude is much the same. “We’re not going to stop,” he said. “I’m going to keep pushing for the positive things that Jay was doing, as well as trying to get my life together. He had a good purpose. To see the same thing happening to different people, with police harassment, that makes me want to do it even more.”

Perhaps the story isn’t over, after all. !