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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Tennessee

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Convicted Knoxville Gang Leader Sentenced To Life In Prison For Drug And Money Laundering Crimes

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. On February 9, 2022, Ronald Turner, 25, of Knoxville, was sentenced to life in prison, followed by a five-year term of supervised release, by the Honorable Thomas A. Varlan, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville.

The sentencing follows Turner’s federal trial last July in which a jury convicted him and six other gang members of conspiring to distribute various controlled substances, including methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl, marijuana, oxycodone, alprazolam, and buprenorphine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A), (C), (D), and (E).  Witnesses testified at trial that Turner, while serving a state prison sentence in the Tennessee Department of Corrections in Middle Tennessee for attempted second-degree murder, used contraband cell phones in the prison to organize multi-pound shipments of methamphetamine to other members of a violent street gang known as the Unknown Ghost Vice Lords in East Tennessee.  The jury also convicted Turner and other defendants of conspiracy to commit money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1956(h).  According to court documents, seven other charged members of the conspiracy previously pleaded guilty.

In determining the sentence, Judge Varlan considered several aggravating factors, including Turner’s role as a leader and organizer of the crimes, his distribution of drugs within the Tennessee state prison, and his direction that other gang members recruit minors to help commit the crimes.  Judge Varlan further ruled that the sentence be served consecutively to Turner’s undischarged term of imprisonment in his state case.  The remaining defendants who were convicted in July will be sentenced in the coming months.

“Turner was part of a gang that trafficked in lethal drugs, resulting in devastation and death within our community.  This sentence sends a powerful message that incarcerated individuals who continue to engage in drug trafficking and who use minors to flood the community with drugs will face justice,” said United States Attorney Francis M. Hamilton III.  “This case is an example of the Department of Justice’s comprehensive strategy to target and prosecute the most serious offenders who pose the greatest threats to safety and peace within the community.”

“Illegal drug trafficking continues to have a devastating and horrific impact on communities throughout our nation.  This life sentence sends a very strong message to those who engage in these unlawful activities.  The FBI and our law enforcement partners remain dedicated to identifying, investigating, and apprehending those who terrorize our communities with their reckless and illegal behavior,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph Carrico.

“Contraband cellphones are a significant security threat that makes criminal conspiracies possible between people inside our correctional environment and those on the outside,” said TDOC Interim Commissioner Lisa Helton. “Illegal cellphones have been used to orchestrate drug operations and other criminal activities that cause devastating consequences for public safety. The Tennessee Department of Correction is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to put an end to this type of activity that threatens our facilities and our communities.”

"Without question, the conviction and sentencing of this defendant will have a profound effect on public safety and quality of life, most significantly in the inner-city where Turner committed numerous acts of violence as an influential gang member. I am extremely proud of the work that KPD investigators Brandon Stryker and Brandon Glover did over an extensive period of time to dismantle a violent inner-city gang, of which Turner was a member. In their capacity as KPD investigators assigned as task force officers to the FBI, they worked collaboratively with the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's office, and their colleagues in KPD's Organized Crime Unit to end this defendant's contributions to creating fear in the lives of citizens who seek only to raise their families in a safe community," said Captain Tony Willis, KDP Organized Crimes Unit. "We are likewise grateful for the support and collaboration of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office in prosecuting this violent inner-city gang."

This conviction and sentence resulted from an investigation conducted by the Knoxville Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Postal Inspection Service, Cleveland Police Department, Chattanooga Police Department, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, the Tennessee Department of Corrections, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol.  The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives also assisted in this investigation by conducting drug and firearms analysis on seized evidence in the case.

Assistant United States Attorneys David P. Lewen, Jr. and Brent N. Jones represented the United States.

This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”) investigation.  OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement against criminal networks.


Violent Crime
Rachelle Barnes Public Affairs Officer (865) 545-4167
Updated February 10, 2022