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by Jordan Green

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Latin Kings sentenced in prosecution that focused on Jorge Cornell

North Carolina Latin Kings leader Jorge Cornell and several members of the organization have received federal prison sentences for criminal racketeering.

The lengthiest sentence by far was received by Cornell, who led the statewide organization from Greensboro from 2005 to 2011. But the 28-year sentence handed down by US District Court Judge James A. Beaty Jr. for three counts of racketeering was a variance from guidelines calling for 30 to 50 years — the top of the range effectively being a life sentence for the 36-year-old Cornell, who suffers from high blood pressure and sleep apnea. The judge noted Cornell’s community work in support of social justice with dozens of supporters in the gallery, including six who testified about their involvement with the defendant.

“I never, ever gave any order to anyone to commit any act of violence. Never,” Cornell told the court before receiving the sentence on Aug. 14.

“I’m an innocent man,” he continued.

“I will continue to say I’m innocent ’til the day I die.”

A jury found Cornell guilty of conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise, reflecting the overall history of the organization, along with two additional racketeering counts related to a shooting the Latin Kings leader allegedly ordered in April 2008. Beaty consolidated 18-year sentences for the first two racketeering counts, and added a 10-year mandatory minimum for the third count of use of a firearm during a violent crime in aid of racketeering.

Marcelo Ysrael Perez, the admitted shooter, pleaded guilty to the same three counts before the case went to trial in 2012. Perez testified that Cornell ordered him and other Latin Kings to go over to Maplewood apartments and commit an act of violence after thenmember Anthony Vasquez was injured in a confrontation with a rival gang.

The following day, Beaty sentenced Perez to 10 years, with the government requesting reduced time in recognition of the defendant’s substantial assistance. Perez, like Cornell, faced a maximum sentence of 50 years.

Jason L. Russo, Perez’s lawyer from New York, credited his client’s cooperation with helping the government nail Cornell.

“Mr. Perez and the status he held in the organization, the fact that he came in prompted others to come in and cooperate with the government,” Russo said. “The superceding indictment that resulted in Mr. Cornell receiving an enhanced sentence was because of him. It was his information that gave the government the confidence to go forward with that.”

Cornell told the court before his sentencing that he had kicked out members who committed crimes.

“Individuals who took the stand, they didn’t understand the true nature of what it meant to be a King. You look at the lessons: It doesn’t say, ‘Go kill.’ It doesn’t say, ‘Go sell drugs.’ Cornell also said he forgave those who took the stand against him because he understood “they were under pressure.”

Russo refuted Cornell’s statement the following day and said that Perez has been approached in prison by people who told him the Latin Kings leader ordered them to kill him.

Ernesto Wilson, an associate who was convicted of racketeering because of his involvement in a series of Greensboro armed robberies in 2007, was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Jason Paul Yates, a longtime rival of Cornell’s for the leadership of the North Carolina Latin Kings, also received a 17-year sentence.

Three Latin Kings members who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government, including Charles Moore, Luis Rosa and Richard Robinson, received sentenced ranging from a year and eight months to four years. Steaphan Acencio-Vasquez and Wesley A. Williams, who pleaded guilty but did not cooperate, received sentences respectively of eight and seven years.

Assistant US Attorney Robert AJ Lang made it clear during Williams’ sentencing that Cornell was the government’s primary target. Williams’ mother signed over custody of her son to Cornell in 2009.

“One of the reasons the government pursued this case against Mr. Cornell was this consistent recruitment of young, troubled, at-risk youth,” Lang said.

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