ITEMS FROM ACROSS THE TRIAD AND BEYOND
Latin Kings racketeering trial enters second week
The federal government has put several North Carolina Latin Kings — both former members and defendants who pleaded out — on the witness stand in the first six days of a trial in federal court in Winston-Salem as part of its criminal racketeering case against the organization.
The 12-member jury also heard from immigrant store owners and employees who were victimized in a string of 2007 robberies, a Mexican construction worker who was shot because a Latin King mistook him for a MS-13 member, and police officers from Greensboro, High Point, Durham and Raleigh.
Six defendants, including statewide leader Jorge Cornell, are on trial, while six have pleaded out. A 13th defendant, Jason Paul Yates, was severed from the case after his lawyer told the court she was unprepared to go to trial.
Marcelo Ysrael Perez, who identified himself as a former statewide enforcer for the North Carolina Latin Kings, testified on Monday that Cornell ordered him to shoot someone in retaliation for an altercation with members of the rival MS-13 gang in Greensboro in April 2008. Perez has pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm in violation of federal law as part of a criminal racketeering enterprise in connection with the shooting.
Perez admitted to shooting a man at Maplewood Apartments in Greensboro, and then fleeing first to Charlotte and later to New York. He was arrested last December shortly before the US government unsealed the racketeering indictment against the Latin Kings.
Perez said Cornell named him third supreme, a position that gave him responsibility for enforcement across the state. Perez testified that Cornell ordered him to oversee a retaliation against rival MS-13 gang members after a Latin King, Anthony Vasquez, fell and hit his head while fleeing from a scuffle at Maplewoods Apartments in April 2008.
Assistant US Attorney Robert AJ Lang asked Perez what was discussed at the apartment where Cornell and Yates lived.
“He wanted retaliation right then and there,” Perez said. “He wanted anybody.” Perez testified under direct examination that he had reservations about carrying out the retaliatory attack.
“Me and Jay Cornell stated debating,” Perez said. “I didn’t agree with his decision. He wanted to go out there with guns blazing. That’s not a smart move. When you’re trying to do a hit you don’t want any witnesses. He wasn’t hearing it. He wanted revenge.” Perez said under Cornell’s orders he got in one car with two other members, Cornell got in another, and they went back to Maplewood Apartments. Perez had a shotgun and the others also had firearms. When they reached the apartment complex, Perez said he and two kings named Dice and Munchy got out of the car and walked along the length of the apartments. Three people watched them from behind a sliding door, Perez said, adding that they “were mean-mugging us,” or staring. Perez took up a defensive position behind a tree in case one of the people in the apartment started firing. Then the three walked back and passed the individuals in the apartment again. “These individuals are not retreating,” Perez recalled. “In my experience if you see someone with a shotgun and you’re not retreating that means you’re ready for a confrontation. When I turned, I saw my mark. I saw his face and I recognized him. He turned and I thought he might be reaching for a weapon, so I shot him with a shotgun. “The dude flew,” Perez added. “It felt like I was in the movies. The impact of the shotgun, it tossed him back.” Perez said he recognized his victim from the confrontation earlier that day. But Rojelio Lopez told the jury on Monday morning that he had been a construction worker at the time and, in fact, was not a member of MS-13 or any other gang.
Perez had testified that he joined the Latin Kings in Charlotte after leaving the New York Latin Kings under an order to “terminate on sight.” Defense attorneys grilled him about his decision to return to New York after the Maplewood Apartments shooting in Greensboro.
“It was the only place I knew how to maneuver… how to survive,” Perez told the jury under cross-examination by Helen Parsonage, the public defender for defendant Irvin Vasquez. “Had it occurred to you to go someplace else — like Alaska?” Parsonage asked. “It occurred to me to go where I knew I had support,” Perez said.
“And where you had a ‘terminate on sight’ order,” Parsonage added.