26 Alleged Gang Members Face Indictment on Racketeering Charges

Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein wants indictment to disrupt the larger organization.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein wants indictment to disrupt the larger organization. (By Matthew S. Gunby -- Associated Press)
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By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Federal prosecutors in Maryland announced a racketeering indictment yesterday against more than two dozen alleged members of a subset of the Bloods gang, revealing a violent underworld that authorities say has grown in the state in recent years as gang recruitment in jails and prisons has soared.

The defendants, most of whom are from the Baltimore area, belong to the Tree Top Pirus, or TTP, a Bloods offshoot that started at the Washington County Detention Center in Hagerstown in the late 1990s, prosecutors said.

The indictment outlines crimes, including five homicides, allegedly committed by TTP members since 2005. Twenty-six of the twenty-eight defendants are charged with racketeering. Many of the defendants are charged with conspiracy, and some are also charged with distribution of narcotics and possession of firearms.

"The goal here is to return an indictment that disrupts the larger organization," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said.

Law enforcement officials in the Washington area say subsets that adopt the creed and practices of the Bloods and the Crips, gangs that started in California nearly four decades ago, have grown in Montgomery County and other local jurisdictions in recent years.

Officials at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, concerned by the spike in recruitment behind bars, recently formed a task force to develop ways to combat gang activity in prisons and share information with local and federal law enforcement officials. Officials say they have identified more than 2,600 gang members in prisons.

"These gangs are more violent, more organized and more entrenched than ever before," said Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the state agency.

According to the indictment, the defendants, five of whom are women, sold drugs to provide financial support to those who were incarcerated, took orders from gang leaders and didn't hesitate to use violence against members of rival gangs as well as Bloods who broke the rules.

The case marks the second time in recent years that the racketeering statute, created in the 1970s to target organized crime, has been used by federal prosecutors in Maryland to disrupt a gang. In 2005, Rosenstein's office secured a similar indictment against alleged members of MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, a Latin gang active in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Eighteen MS-13 members have been convicted on racketeering charges, and 13 have pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including immigration and gun crimes.

The Bloods indictment was returned Thursday and unsealed yesterday. Fourteen gang members were behind bars on other charges when the indictment was handed up, and eight were taken into custody yesterday morning. Six were at large yesterday afternoon.

The gang's alleged leader, Steve Willock, 28, of Hagerstown ran the gang from prison in Hagerstown since 2000, prosecutors said. In 2005, the gang acquired the sought-after recognition of its more-established counterpart in Compton, Calif., which "sponsored" the Maryland gang, according to the indictment.

The Maryland TTP members wore the California gang's trademark red bandanas and caps, fought members of the Crips, a rival gang, and used a language code to discuss gang business, according to the indictment.

It says, for example, that in their vernacular, a "911" is a gang meeting; "baby love" means money; "999" is a reference to someone who is cooperating with law enforcement; "pup" and "peanut" are code words for pledges; police officers are "roscoes"; "birthday boy" is a prospective robbery victim; and a person "on the menu" or "labeled food" is marked for a serious beating or slaying.

In order to join, members needed to go through an initiation that generally involved committing a serious crime such as robbery, carjacking or assault, the indictment says. "The initiation process also involved being 'jumped in to' or 'blessed in to' the gang," according to the indictment.

The defendants addressed fellow members using nicknames, which they changed often to make it harder for law enforcement officials to collect intelligence on the gang, the indictment says.

Among those indicted is Ronnie Thomas, 34, of Baltimore, who Rosenstein identified as the creator of the DVD "Stop Snitching," which received national attention in 2004.

Willock, in a letter sent to a gang leader in California, touted the DVD. He also said he was "building on a financial structure" in parts of Baltimore, Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore where the gang was active and vowed to keep the "legacy of the Tree Top alive" on the East Coast.

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