SAN FRANCISCO – Burte Gucci Rhodes, a.k.a. Moeshawn, was sentenced today to life in prison plus 78 months for conspiring to commit a murder for hire, committing a murder for hire, and possession with intent to distribute heroin, announced United States Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp, and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Special Agent in Charge Darren Lian. The sentence was handed down by the Hon. William H. Alsup, United States District Judge.
Rhodes, 41, of Oakland, was convicted of the charges after a week-long trial before Judge Alsup. The trial focused on the March 22, 2016, murder of Louisiana native Trince Thibodeaux, age 28. Trial evidence demonstrated that Marcus Etienne, a.k.a. Hitler, 41, of St. Martin Parish, La., was the leader of a racketeering enterprise based in St. Martin Parish near Lafayette, Louisiana. The criminal enterprise engaged in a wide range of crimes including narcotics distribution, assault, robbery, extortion, extortionate collection of extensions of credit, murder for hire, murder, money laundering, illegal firearms possession, gambling on dogfighting, and obstruction of justice. As early as 2009, the enterprise was led by Etienne and eventually, Thibodeaux became one of seven principal members of the enterprise. In 2016, Etienne tasked Thibodeaux with transporting several thousand dollars and drugs from Louisiana to California. Etienne suspected and then concluded that Thibodeaux had stolen money and narcotics from the enterprise and ordered that Thibodeaux be killed. Etienne offered Mario Robinson, 36, of Opelousas, La., and Oakland, Calif., $5,000 to murder Thibodeaux, and Robinson accepted. Robinson then contracted with Rhodes, a longtime friend of his from Oakland, to complete the murder in exchange for $5,000.
Evidence at trial showed that on the night of March 22, 2016, Robinson and another member of the organization lured Thibodeaux to a predetermined location near the intersection of 90th Avenue and International Boulevard in the eastern part of Oakland, where Rhodes was waiting. The evidence demonstrated that, once Thibodeaux arrived, Rhodes approached him from behind and shot him nine times. Thibodeaux was pronounced dead later that night.
One week after the murder, Robinson sent Rhodes a wire transfer of $1,250. In the months following the murder, Robinson had other associates in Louisiana send additional wire transfers to Rhodes.
The murder took place against the backdrop of a wide variety of criminal activity perpetuated by the criminal enterprise. For example, court documents, including plea agreements signed by Etienne and Robinson, describe how the enterprise purchased marijuana in California and used the United States Postal Service to ship the drugs to Louisiana and Texas. Robinson admitted he received packages containing between one and ten pounds of marijuana every one or two months. Robinson and Etienne used cash proceeds from the narcotics trafficking to purchase marijuana and other controlled substances in California. Robinson also purchased money orders in Louisiana to pay the enterprise’s marijuana suppliers in California. Both Etienne and Robinson admitted that they conducted financial transactions with proceeds of narcotics trafficking to conceal the nature, source, and ownership of the enterprise’s profits. In addition, Etienne admitted he purchased and maintained dogs used for fighting in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, on a property owned by another member of the enterprise. At the property, Etienne and other members of the enterprise hosted dog-fighting events at which attendees would pay a cover fee and gamble on the dogfights. Dogs, including dogs owned by Etienne, were seriously injured and even killed either during the events or as a result of the training leading up to the events.
On December 18, 2018, a federal grand jury issued a Third Superseding Indictment charging Rhodes with murder for hire, in violation of 18 U.S.C § 1958, conspiracy to commit murder for hire, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and other crimes while Etienne and Robinson also were charged with several crimes related to the activities of the enterprise. On November 4, 2022, a federal jury convicted Rhodes of one count of murder for hire, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1958, and one count of conspiracy to commit murder for hire, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. After the trial, Rhodes pleaded guilty to an additional charge of possession with intent to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B)(i). Today, Judge Alsup sentenced Rhodes for all three crimes.
Etienne and Robinson admitted their respective roles in the crimes and both defendants pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A)(vii), and 846; racketeering conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); and conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h). Judge Alsup sentenced both Etienne and Robinson on October 13, 2020, ordering Etienne to serve 34 years in prison and Robinson to serve 32 years in prison. In addition, Etienne and Robinson twice refused to testify at trial about the murder for hire scheme when lawfully subpoenaed by the government and ordered to testify by the court. Consequently, Judge Alsup held Etienne and Robinson in contempt of court and added 12 months of prison time to each defendant’s sentence.
The United States Attorney’s Office’s Organized Crime Strike Force is prosecuting the case. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Oakland Division, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Oakland Police Department, with assistance from the St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, Sheriff’s Office, and the Opelousas, Louisiana, Police Department.