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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Six Detroit Vice Lords Gang Members Plead Guilty to Racketeering Conspiracy and Gang-Related Shootings

Six members of the Vice Lords gang in Detroit pleaded guilty this week to various racketeering and firearms offenses based on their roles in the gang-related shooting of four individuals. 

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Special Agent in Charge Robin Shoemaker of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Detroit Field Division, Special Agent in Charge David P. Gelios of the FBI’s Detroit Division and Chief James Craig of the Detroit Police Department made the announcement. 

Antonio Clark, aka Cheeto, 26; Aramis Wilson, aka Ace, 25; Tyrone Price, aka Price, 27; Jonathan Kinchen, aka Deago, 22; Kojuan Lee, aka Juan, 20; Kirshean Nelson, 19; Dion Robinson, 37; and Kenneth Smith, 34, all of Detroit, were indicted for racketeering and firearms charges relating to the gang-related shooting of four members of a family on May 7, 2015.

On Jan. 25, 2016, Wilson pleaded guilty to two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering and one count of using and carrying of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.  On Jan. 26, 2016, Nelson pleaded guilty to one count of RICO conspiracy.  On Jan. 27, 2016, Clark pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted murder in aid of racketeering and one count of using and carrying of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.  On Jan. 28, 2016, Lee and Kinchen each pleaded guilty to one count of RICO conspiracy; Price pleaded guilty to two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering and one count of using and carrying of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

According to the plea agreements, the Vice Lords is a national gang engaged in a variety of crimes, including murder, robbery, narcotics trafficking and witness intimidation.  The defendants admitted that the Vice Lords’ leaders are located in Chicago and Detroit and that the gang is broken down into various “sets,” “decks” or “branches.”  Members who seek to leave the gang oftentimes endure a physical beating by multiple Vice Lord members or are targeted for killing.  The racketeering activity included, from 2011 through 2015, trafficking in controlled substances, including marijuana, Xanax and ecstasy, at locations in and around the Detroit metropolitan area, including at Northland Mall in Southfield, Michigan.

As admitted in the plea agreements, members of the Traveling Vice Lords set, acting at the direction of Smith and others, searched for two brothers who had left, or attempted to leave, the Vice Lords as part of a plan to harm those individuals.  The defendants further admitted that on May 7, 2015, they and others met at Smith’s house to discuss their plan and collect firearms, including an AK-47 assault rifle, then traveled in multiple cars to the intended victims’ house.  After a brief confrontation with the brothers’ family members, Clark opened fire with an AK-47, firing at the family more than two dozen times and hitting four victims. 

The charges related to the shooting are a component of the federal government’s prosecution of the Vice Lords street gang, which has led to the arrests and convictions of Vice Lords leaders and members over several years.  In two trials during March and May 2015, juries convicted eight leaders and members of the Phantom Outlaw Motorcycle Club, many of whom were also leaders and members of the Vice Lords, for various crimes, including a mass murder plot against a rival organization of the Phantoms and the shooting of a member of another rival organization.  Among those eight convicted defendants was Antonio Johnson, aka MT and Mister Tony, the national president of the Phantoms and the “three-star general” of the Vice Lords in Michigan, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Sept. 8, 2015.

On Jan. 13, 2015, Christopher Tibbs, aka Chief Fatah, the leader of the Michigan branch of the Mafia Insane Vice Lords, was sentenced to 346 months in prison for his role in helping plan an armed robbery.  This case marked the first time that the federal criminal street gang enhancement was charged in the Eastern District of Michigan.

Kenneth Smith is currently a fugitive and anyone with any information about his whereabouts is encouraged to call the U.S. Marshals tip line at (313) 234-5656 and the ATF’s tip line at (313) 202-3400.  The charges and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations.  The defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. 

The ATF’s Comprehensive Violence Reduction Program, which includes representatives of the Detroit Police, Michigan State Police and Michigan Department of Corrections, is investigating the case in coordination with the FBI and DEA.  Trial Attorney Joseph Wheatley of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher Graveline and Mark Bilkovic of the Eastern District of Michigan are prosecuting the case.

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Updated January 28, 2016