Prosecutors say Young Thug’s texts are evidence in the RICO case

Over the past decade, Atlanta rapper Young Thug has released a number of songs about guns and snipers, life of the mafia and gangsters.

“I’ve never killed anyone, but I have something to do with that body,” he rapped on the 2018 track. “Anyone”, With Nicki Minaj. “I told them to fire a hundred bullets… ready for war as if I were Russia… I get all kinds of money. I’m a general. “

In 2020 he was more brazen, throwing a direct challenge to the authorities.

“Take this s— a motherf— trial,” Young Thug rapped on 2020’s “Take It to Trial” with two other artists on his Young Slime Life label, Gunna and Yak Gotti.

According to a 56-count indictment filed by Georgia prosecutors, these were not street fantasies or in vain.

Georgia prosecutors arrested Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Lamar Williams, on Monday, on charges of participating in gang activities and violating Georgia’s Corrupt and Racketeering Organizations (RICO) charter. . Controversially, the Grammy-winning rapper’s lyrics and social media posts are a key part of the prosecution.

In an 88-page document, Fulton County prosecutors listed the lyrics for nine of his songs, from “Hey“to” Ski “last year, a collaboration with Atlanta rapper Gunna, who is also named defendant.

Prosecutors say the 30-year-old hip-hop star, known for her melodic, eerie flow and gender-bending fashion aesthetic, is a key founder and organizer of Young Slime Life, or YSL, a street criminal gang who engaged in or conspired to commit violent crimes including murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, armed robbery, car theft, theft and drug dealing.

If Williams, who appeared before a Fulton County magistrate judge on Tuesday and remains in jail until the case goes to Superior Court, is convicted on a charge under the RICO Act, he could face a prison sentence of up to. 20 years and a $ 250,000 fine.

Williams’ attorney Brian Steel said the charges against his client – one of the most influential acts to emerge from Atlanta’s vibrant hip-hop scene – were “baseless” and that Williams “was not involved in any kind. of street criminal gang activities. “

But prosecutors say Young Thug’s music is not mere art or gritty work of fiction, but propaganda designed to attract new recruits to YSL and inspire criminal acts of violence.

The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office outlined a decade-long narrative that places Williams, who grew up in the Sylvan Hills neighborhood of southwest Atlanta, as one of the three founders of Young Slime Life, a local gang founded in 2012 that claims affiliation with the national band of the Bloods.

Using Georgia’s RICO statute, prosecutors identify Williams and 27 other people as members of what they claim to be a street criminal gang that conspired to illegally obtain money and property through a model of racketeering activity including murder, aggravated assault. and threats of violence.

Under RICO, a complicated statute closely modeled on the federal law of 1970 that was used to convict mafia and high-level gangsters involved in organized crime, it is not necessary for a defendant to have committed a crime to be found guilty. Williams, for example, would not have committed murder to be convicted had it been discovered that he had participated in an interconnected model of criminal activity.

To be found guilty, the state must prove that the accused committed two or more predicate offenses, such as murder or theft. Then they must prove that those offenses were committed by two or more people as part of a larger racketeering enterprise that the accused controlled or was employed by.

A mugshot of a black male

Jeffery Lamar Williams, aka Young Thug, one of 28 people indicted Monday in Georgia for conspiracy to violate state RICO law and street gang charges.

(AP)

Prosecutors claim that like Young Thug, Williams promoted and popularized YSL. His videos and songs, messages and images, they argue, are part of a larger model of criminal activity, “protecting and enhancing the firm’s reputation, power and territory” and “demonstrating loyalty to the firm and willingness to engage. in violence on its behalf “.

Five defendants, including rapper Yak Gotti, whose real name is Deamonte Kendrick, are charged with murder. Another, Christian Eppinger, is accused of seriously injuring an Atlanta police officer in a February shooting. Quantavious Grier, Williams’ brother, rapper Unfoonk, is accused of theft for receiving a stolen item, a 9mm Taurus pistol. Sergio Giavanni Kitchens, the Atlanta-based rapper at the top of the charts known as Gunna, is accused of stolen drugs and possession with intent to distribute them.

The prosecution juxtaposes alleged social media, song lyrics and prison phone calls from Williams and his associates with details of the shooting victims, such as Donovan Thomas Jr., a rival gang member who was shot to death by a rival gang member. barber shop in southwest Atlanta in 2015. Prosecution accuses Williams of renting a silver Infiniti Q50 sedan that was used in Donovan’s murder commission.

The same year, prosecutors say, YSL members attempted to kill a number of men and fired a rifle at a woman named Denise Bell, “maliciously causing physical harm and severely disfiguring” her buttocks. They also shot the tour bus of Dwayne Carter, Jr., the New Orleans hip-hop star also known as Lil Wayne.

Fulton County District av Fani Willis said at a news conference Tuesday that Williams and his indicted associates have created “havoc in our community.”

“It doesn’t matter what your fame is, what your fame is,” he said. “If you come to Fulton County, Georgia and commit crimes – and certainly if those crimes are for a street gang – you will become a target.”

Steel, Williams’ attorney, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that his client has committed no crime.

“The accusation is frivolous,” he said. “And we will fight it and fight it ethically, legally and zealously. Mr. Williams will be cleared of any charges. “

A rapper in a burgundy velvet sports coat and sunglasses walks the red carpet at an awards ceremony.

Rapper Gunna at the American Music Awards in November 2021.

(Jordan Strauss / Invision / Associated Press)

Any use of rap lyrics and hip-hop cultural aesthetics to put a defendant in a nefarious light should be viewed with skepticism, said Jovan Blacknell, a Culver City attorney representing the family of the late South LA rapper. Drakeo the Ruler.

Prosecutors used videos and lyrics of songs like “Flex Freestyle” as evidence that Drakeo was involved in a murder and that his Stinc Team was a violent criminal gang. After spending two years in prison, Drakeo was acquitted of the murder charge and later released on a plea deal.

Officials were resurrecting the “flawed tactic of using the art of young African American men as a tool of indictment,” Blacknell said.

“These artists often express dramatizations of stories and events that persist in their communities,” he said. “The US government knows that song lyrics are rarely a narrative of real events, yet they try to exploit unfounded racial stereotypes to bring about an unfair end. Using these artistic expressions like a sword is a suffocating form of censorship, which goes against the most rudimentary values ​​of our country ”.

When asked about the use of the song lyrics in the indictment, Willis said he believed the 1st Amendment was one of “our most precious rights.”

“However, the 1st Amendment does not protect people from prosecutors by using it as evidence if it is,” he said. “In this case, we put it as explicit and predicative acts within the RICO count, because we believe it is exactly what it is.”

Prosecutors didn’t just browse Williams’ song lyrics and statements and images on social media, documenting threats of violence or gang symbolism, such as wearing red, flashing hand signs indicating his loyalty to the gang.

They also accuse Williams of two separate felony theft counts for receiving a stolen firearm in 2013 and 2015 and a terror threat offense in 2015 when he threatened a security guard at Atlanta’s Perimeter Mall.

“If you keep getting close, I’ll shoot you in the face with a gun,” he would have said.

Prosecutors also claim that Williams promoted the conspiracy in telephone conversations with his associates.

In a 2020 conversation about a vehicle theft with another defendant, the state backs this up Williams ordered him to say to another, “If he doesn’t take it back, he’ll die.”

In a May 2021 conversation with multiple defendants, prosecutors say, Williams asked, “Haven’t you beaten or shot them yet?”

Then he said, “You all n— are getting soft.”

A black Democrat who was elected in 2020 and quickly found herself at the center of the firestorm over former President Trump and his associates committing election fraud in Georgia, Willis has consistently stated that her primary goal is to take a stand. target the gangs. Atlanta has seen a sharp rise in violent crime in recent years, but historically gangs haven’t been as prevalent there as in larger cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.

“They are conservatively committing 75% to 80% of all the violent crimes we are seeing within our community, so they need to be eradicated from our community,” Willis said Tuesday. Shortly after she was elected, she noticed, she sat down with the mother of Donovan Thomas Jr., who was shot dead in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood of Atlanta, and promised her that she was her son. he was as valuable as any other person in the community.

Willis said the indictment against alleged YSL members didn’t necessarily detail every crime they committed. His investigators of him, he said, had focused on the bosses.

“We believe the removal of these 28 defendants will keep Fulton County safer,” he said.