Latin Kings indictment stuns supporters
Tracy Weyman, AKA Queen Smiley, leavers her home on Lexington Avenue following an FBI raid last week.
(photo by Jordan Green)
Dozens of FBI agents and officers with the Greensboro Police Department and Guilford County Sheriff’s Office swarmed over a house at the corner of Florida and Lexington avenues in Glenwood on Dec. 6 to arrest Jorge Cornell, AKA King Jay, and Charles Moore, both members of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, on racketeering charges. The police had knocked in the back door with a flash-bang grenade. All the occupants of the house were taken out in handcuffs, including Tracy Weyman, a nation member, and her 15-year-old daughter. The arrests were part of a coordinated raid that resulted in the detentions of six Greensboro Latin Kings. The indictment unsealed by the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina against 13 individuals, including a number who have been stripped of their status in the organization, alleges that the North Carolina Latin Kings under Cornell’s leadership have conspired to commit murders, assaults, robberies, kidnappings and arson since 2005. “There’s no way in hell,” said Weyman after being released from custody. “There’s nothing going on.” In addition to Cornell and Moore, the six Greensboro members arrested include Russell Kilfoil, Luis Alberto Rosa, Samuel Velasquez and Richard Lee Robinson. Wesley Williams, a former member who was stripped of his status after fleeing Greensboro in 2010, was arrested in Las Vegas. Arrest warrants have been issued for six others, including Randolph Kilfoil, who is currently serving a federal sentence for a felony weapons charge. The indictment seeks the forfeiture of shotguns, revolvers, pistols, an AK-47 assault rifle and three machetes. What they found at the Lexington Avenue house were cell phones, notebooks, papers, cameras, Cornell’s wallet, a laptop computer, a nation flag, pictures of lions, and various items of clothing and jewelry bearing the nation’s black and gold colors, including a Pittsburgh Steelers cap. A street organization with roots in Chicago and New York City, the Latin Kings’ history has unfolded as a push-pull tug between criminality and social uplift. In the summer of 2008, the Latin Kings splashed onto the scene in Greensboro only a week after the Justice Department announced the indictment of 26 members of the MS-13 gang in the Western District of North Carolina. During a press conference at the Beloved Community Center, the Latin Kings accused the Greensboro Police Department of harassment, and adamantly insisted the nation was committed to social improvement, starting with an effort to secure a peace agreement among street organizations. “Most of these groups, somewhere down the line, guess how they started?” Cornell told YES! Weekly at the time. “Protecting neighborhoods from racism, against police brutality. Somewhere down the line they did something wrong or they went down the wrong road, but here’s an opportunity, a beautiful opportunity to get back on the righteous road, so all our people can shine.” That posture doesn’t comport in the least with the federal government’s indictment, which describes the purpose of the enterprise headed by Cornell as “preserving and protecting the power, territory, operations and prestige of the Latin Kings through the use of intimidation, violence, threats of violence and destruction of property.” Among the most disturbing allegations is that Cornell bragged about killing an MS-13 member and procured machetes to kill a member who had defied his authority and planned to firebomb the house of another disgruntled member. The indictment alleges that in late July 2010, Cornell stated, “I’m not going to say when or where, but I got me a 13. I got me one. A certain brother did not want to motherf***ing pull the trigger, so I snatched it out of his hand and did what I had to do. You know what I am saying? I can’t stand niggas hesitating.” Keeney said Cornell has denied making any such statement. “My question is where did that quote come from?” Keeney said. “That’s a huge accusation and so far the sources of these things are anonymous. Whose the source of many of these accusations? In my dealings with Jorge, he has some pretty straightforward and nonnegotiable rules with the folks that were going to be in the Kings with him, and when people broke those rules he threw them out of the organization. My worry is that someone who he threw out of the organization is engaging in a little bit of retribution and accused him of things he hasn’t done.” The allegations contained in the indictment, including those that are the most sensational, do not provide evidence or explain the sources of the government’s information. “More details about the allegations will be disclosed at trial or if any defendants plead guilty may be disclosed in a written factual basis filed with the guilty plea,” said Lynne Klauer, public information officer for the US Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of North Carolina. The Safe Streets Task Force, a coordinated effort between federal, state and local law enforcement, conducted the investigation. The indictment alleges that in December 2009, Cornell ordered that three members who had rebelled from his control be killed. The indictment states that “Cornell ordered Velasquez to transport from Raleigh to Greensboro two machetes, each stamped with the Latin Kings reference ‘Corona’ on the blade” for the purpose of killing one of the dissidents. In May 2011, a superior court judge found Cornell guilty of resisting a public officer. Latin Kings and their supporters reconvened to the Beloved Community Center to consult with Executive Director Anita Earls at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice for advice. After the call, Keeney recommended that Cornell get rid of some machetes at his house to avoid violating his terms of probation. “I think it’s for self-defense because they don’t have guns,” Keeney said. “[Jorge has] been arrested and is not allowed to have guns.” On Aug. 10, 2008, Cornell was shot and critically injured by an unidentified perpetrator on Aug. 10. A group of pastors held a press conference while Cornell was in the hospital, and the Rev. Johnson conveyed an expression of forgiveness on Cornell’s behalf to whoever perpetrated the shooting. The federal government tells a different story, alleging that after he was shot, Cornell ordered Latin Kings members to transport guns from Charlotte to Greensboro to be used in a retaliatory strike against MS-13. The government’s list of particulars begins in early 2006, alleging that Randolph Kilfoil and at least one other Latin King committed an armed robbery of an individual in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart store in Greensboro. Kilfoil, who is Cornell’s younger brother, was arrested and charged by the Greensboro Police Department. He pled guilty and received a 39-month sentence in state prison. Following the arrest, the indictment alleges “Cornell traveled to the Guilford County Jail” and attempted “to intimidate and harass law enforcement officers.” The incident has been widely documented: Cornell appeared at the magistrate’s office, banged on the window and accused law enforcement officers of assaulting his associates. He was convicted of disorderly conduct in a summary judgment. The indictment alleges that in April 2007, Luis Rosa — also known as King Speechless and one of the Greensboro six — and Steaphan Acencio-Vasquez — another defendant who is also known as King Leo — along with two others, robbed a dry-cleaning business in Greensboro, and one struck the storeowner on the head with a handgun. The indictment also alleges that Acencio-Vasquez committed armed robberies in Raleigh and Durham that year. In 2008, the indictment alleges that Cornell and Russell Kilfoil, who are also biological brothers, approached the assistant manager of a cell phone store in Greensboro, and that Cornell ordered her to give him money that she was responsible for depositing in the store’s bank account. Cornell and Kilfoil were each charged with 11 felonies in the matter, which was investigated by the Greensboro Police Department gang unit. All charges were dismissed. “It certainly seems to me that they charge first and do an investigation later,” Georgia Nixon-Roney, a High Point lawyer who represented Cornell in the matter, said in a 2008 interview. “With Jorge’s cases, I barely got involved, and the DA looked at it and said, ‘Based on what the officer turned in, we have to dismiss this.’” Sgt. Ronald Sizemore, who led the gang unit, said the assistant store manager was Kilfoil’s girlfriend. “She told the police a couple different stories,” Assistant District Attorney Howard Neumann said in 2008. “One of the stories was that she was doing this for the Latin Kings, and they had threatened to harm her family if she didn’t continue to do so. We were able to find where she had literally made thousands of dollars of cash purchases herself at a jewelry store in Greensboro, and at Dillards at Four Seasons. We were able to substantiate that she was spending the cash. All these were public places that were under video surveillance by businesses.” The indictment also includes an allegation that on Aug. 21 Jason Paul Yates, Wesley Williams and others “committed a home invasion in Greensboro, looking for a man who had attacked another Latin Kings member and threatened Williams’ mother. One of the Latin Kings members smashed a beer bottle on the head of the resident of the home.” The incident can be verified in court records, and was acknowledged by Latin Kings members during a community meeting in 2008. As it happened, the assailants’ information was faulty, and they attacked someone who had nothing to do with the affront. The man who was attacked received a written apology from Cornell. Felony charges against Yates related to the incident were dismissed by the Guilford County District Attorney’s Office in late 2010. No explanation for the decision is provided in case files. The indictment asserts that “members of the Latin Kings sold controlled substances to financially benefit themselves and the enterprise as a whole.” Substantiation is found in only one overt act listed in the indictment, which alleges Yates, Irvin Vasquez and two others kidnapped a drug dealer in Morrisville, and stole $450 and 12 grams of marijuana in December 2008. In May 2009, the indictment describes a scene involving Randolph Kilfoil, who had completed his state prison sentence for armed robbery, sitting on Williams’ front porch with several other Latin Kings: “At that time, Randolph Kilfoil carried a loaded semiautomatic firearm for protection from rival gang members. Randolph Kilfoil was later arrested, and attempted to threaten and intimidate certain Greensboro police officers by stating, ‘It’s a good thing you got me off the streets or it would have been a hard summer for the police. You can’t stop the Latin Kings. We are everywhere. We are going to teach you guys a lesson.’” In April 2010, the indictment alleges, “Cornell ordered Robinson and Williams to complete a ‘mission’ on behalf of the Latin Kings, and the two obtained an assault rifle, a shotgun and more than 90 rounds of ammunition.” Both were charged with carrying a concealed gun. Robinson appealed a district court conviction. In March 2011, Robinson pleaded guilty and as part of a plea agreement the weapons were destroyed. Williams failed to appear in court and an order was issued for his arrest. His charge was dropped in April 2011. “I’m not suggesting that Jorge or the guys in the Latin Kings are angels,” said the Rev. Keeney, an Episcopal priest who is acting as Cornell’s spiritual advisor. “They’re kids. Many of them don’t have post-secondary education. They haven’t had opportunities for employment. Who knows if somebody may do something because they don’t have money. “I haven’t seen any organized criminal activity that the Latin Kings seek to carry out,” he continued. “Because if they did, they wouldn’t be without money, unable to pay rent, unable to buy food and depending on the charity of others to get by. It’s just not quite fitting as far as the racketeering thing. I think if you take a group like the Latin Kings and define them as a criminal group and then go looking for criminal acts committed by individuals over a 10-year period, they’re going to be able to find that.” To learn more about this case and to read a copy of the indictment, visit the YES! Weekly Blog at www.yesweeklyblog.blogspot.com/