A leader of the Vice Lords street gang was sentenced today to 146 months for his role in various criminal gang-related activities, including the May 7, 2015, shooting of four people with an AK-47 assault rifle.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel L. Lemisch of the Eastern District of Michigan, Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas L. Chittum 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.
Kenneth Smith, 36, of Detroit, pleaded guilty on Feb. 22, 2016, before U.S. District Judge David M. Lawson of the Eastern District of Michigan, to one count of RICO conspiracy and one count of failure to appear in court.
In connection with his plea, Smith admitted that the Vice Lords is a national gang broken down into various “sets,” “decks,” or “branches,” which includes the Detroit-based Traveling Vice Lords (TVL), and that these sets operate in a hierarchical chain of command, answering to the gang’s leaders in Chicago, Illinois and Detroit. Vice Lords members engage in a variety of racketeering crimes in furtherance of the gang’s activities, including shootings of rivals, armed robberies and narcotics trafficking. In addition, gang members impose punishment on members for violations of the gang’s rules, including for attempts to leave or withdraw from the gang, which often result in a physical beating or a “green light” order to kill.
Pursuant to his plea agreement, Smith admitted that he was a leader of the TVL, and that, in May 2015, he directed other members of the TVL to search for two individuals who had attempted to leave the gang in order to harm them. Smith further admitted that on May 7, 2015, members of the TVL traveled in multiple cars to the intended victims’ house, including a car owned by Smith’s girlfriend, where TVL members shot four victims with an AK-47.
As part of his plea, Smith also admitted that, while on pretrial release for a prior indictment in this case, he sent numerous text messages threatening harm to a potential witness and that witness’s children if the witness continued “telling” on the Vice Lords. Smith also admitted that, when the government filed a motion to revoke his pretrial release, he removed the GPS tether he had been ordered to wear as a condition of pretrial release and willfully failed to appear in court.
Smith is the last of nine defendants charged in connection with the May 7, 2015, shooting to be sentenced. Eight other members and leaders of the TVL previously pleaded guilty to charges related to the shooting and received sentences ranging from 36 to 240 months in prison for their respective roles. In addition, a tenth defendant previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 48 months in prison for witness tampering stemming from his role in accessing the shooting victims’ medical records to provide identifying information to Vice Lords gang members who wished to prevent the victims from cooperating in the investigation.
The arrests and convictions in this case are, in part, the result of the Detroit One Initiative, a collaborative effort between law enforcement and the community to reduce homicide and other violent crime in Detroit. Through the lead efforts of the Comprehensive Violence Reduction Partnership Task Force, which consists of representatives of the ATF, Detroit Police Department, Michigan State Police, Michigan Department of Corrections and FBI, law enforcement authorities linked various acts of violence in Detroit to the Vice Lords street gang and identified the leaders and key members of the gang, who now have been held accountable.
The ATF, FBI and Detroit Police Department are investigating the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher Graveline and Mark Bilkovic of the Eastern District of Michigan and Trial Attorney Joseph Wheatley of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section are prosecuting the case.