|Vice Lords member found guilty|
|Wednesday, October 17, 2012|
By JENNIFER HORTON
Lebanon Police Chief Scott Bowen lauded the hard of officers in a drug distribution conspiracy case that led to the conviction of a member of the Vice Lords gang in federal court on Tuesday.
Monique “Money” Smith, 41, of Cookeville, was convicted on all counts of a seven-count indictment by a federal jury in U.S. District Court in Nashville, said Jerry Martin, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee.Smith was one of 17 people indicted in September 2011 for their alleged participation in the drug distribution conspiracy and associated violence while also illegally possessing firearms. He was one of 11 members of the Vice Lords to be indicted.
“We’re very pleased to know this outcome,” Bowen said, adding Smith’s conviction, along with the guilty pleas or sentence proffers, or offers, of 13 of the defendants so far, “just shows the strength of the case.”
Authorities from several agencies in the area conducted a joint investigation into the activities of the Vice Lords, a national street gang, operating in Wilson and Putnam Counties and beyond. The investigation occurred during a two-year period. Those agencies involved included Lebanon Police Department, Wilson County Sheriff’s Department, police departments in Metro Nashville, Sparta and Cookeville, sheriff’s departments in White and Putnam Counties, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Highway Patrol, FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
During the week-long trial, testimony confirmed that Smith was a high ranking member of the Vice Lords and was mostly responsible for coordinating the gang’s activity within Tennessee.
He has two prior serious drug offenses and faces a mandatory life sentence for participating in a drug conspiracy. He faces an additional five years in prison for possessing a gun during a crime. Sentencing is set for Jan. 4, 2013.
“This verdict is a reminder of our tireless commitment to combating criminal street gangs in the Middle Tennessee area,” Martin said. “The conviction of a gang member who operated largely in suburban areas like Cookeville and Lebanon should serve as notice that the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our local, state and federal law enforcement partners will bring our combined resources to bear anywhere, at any time, when gang members traffic in drugs and carry guns. The message is clear – gang crime will not be tolerated.”
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Braden H. Boucek and Brent Hannafan.
Bowen noted that 15-20 law enforcement personnel worked on the case and added that he was grateful to District Attorney Tommy Thompson and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “Without them, we could not have gotten this done.”
He also said he wanted to thank Mayor Philip Craighead and the Lebanon City Council for their support, especially in terms of overtime for officers involved in the investigation, some of whom, he added, worked round the clock when necessary.
Bowen reiterated the importance of the investigation, noting that crimes committed by the defendants drive other crimes, often violent ones, as well.
Of the 17 defendants, two of them were involved in previous crimes not related to this case. Bowen said Orlando “C-Nut” Steverson of Lebanon was charged on June 29, 2011 with one count of premeditated first degree murder, felony murder and attempted robbery in an incident that occurred in the Upton Heights federal housing project on Feb. 19, 2007. There have been two other co-defendants also charged in that case.
Also, Corey Dregis “Big Real” Neal, of Lebanon, was charged on Jan. 1, 2005 with a homicide that occurred on April 27, 1998, in the Inman Court federal housing project. He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was serving 10 years on probation when he was indicted and arrested as part of the group of 17 in 2011.
Although Bowen emphasized that the homicide charges against Steverson and Neal were not connected to this most recent investigation into the Vice Lords, “it shows you the criminal history and criminal path” of many of those in gangs.
The police chief added that Steverson and Neal were familiar to local law enforcement who have dealt with the suspects previously.
“We’ve been dealing with him (Neal) since I started here 20 years ago,” Bowen said, adding police have dealt with him since he was juvenile.
“It’s the same people committing drug-related, violent crimes,” he noted.
Because the case was taken to the federal level where sentences are much tougher than those handed down in state courts, those who have been convicted are looking at 10 years to life in prison. And Bowen noted the law requires that someone convicted of a crime on the federal level must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence handed down.
Bowen had this message for anyone, young people in particular, who might be contemplating joining a gang of some kind. “We’re not done. This is not the last of these cases we’ll be dealing with… This is just a warning, you might be next.”
He added, “This is the first one of these cases we’ve done since I’ve been here. In the end, it all pays off. It’s all worth it. I hope this sends a message to some people.”
Lebanon Police will conduct a workshop on gangs from 6 until 8 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Journey Church on the corner of South Maple Street and Leeville Pike. Guest speakers will cover topics such as the definition of a gang, different types of gangs, information about local gangs, the structure of gangs, why young people join them, early indicators of gang involvement for parents to aware of and more.
There is no charge to attend, and everyone is welcome to attend.