To an outside observer, it seemed like Tawanna Hilliard and her son sat on opposite sides of the criminal justice system.

Tyquan Hilliard, 28, belonged to the 5-9 Brims set of the notorious Bloods street gang, whose members had spent years engaging in deadly turf wars in Brooklyn and Long Island, according to federal prosecutors. His mother, meanwhile, worked for the Justice Department — the institution investigating the gangs and bringing charges against their members. A paralegal for the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey, she had spent nine years working in the office’s civil division, reported.

But in federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday, both mother and son had the same title: defendant.

While working as a paralegal, prosecutors say, Tawanna Hilliard, 44, used her government-issued computer to identify and expose “snitches” — potential witnesses who were providing authorities with information about gang activities. The Brooklyn resident, who pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges Tuesday, allegedly found sensitive information in databases of criminal cases, then passed it along to the 5-9 Brims, at the behest of a high-ranking member of the gang. She also allegedly outed her son’s accomplice in a 2018 robbery, opening up him and his family to death threats.

Prosecutors haven’t revealed how they learned that Tawanna Hilliard was allegedly leaking sensitive information to gang members. But in charging documents, they say that she spoke to her son on the phone in April 2016 and told him that she had “looked up” criminal cases at the request of a member of the 5-9 Brims who wanted her to find out who had “snitched,” violating the gang’s code of silence.

Then, in May 2018, Tyquan Hilliard and another man from Brooklyn walked into an AT&T store in Monticello, N.Y., flashing what looked like a semiautomatic handgun. The pair reportedly forced the store clerk and two shoppers into a storage room, and bound them with duct tape before helping themselves to one of the customers’ cellphones and $3,000 worth of iPhones and iPads. Fleeing in a new white Jaguar, the pair led police on a high-speed chase for about 20 miles before they crashed into a guardrail at 125 mph and had to stop in a diner parking lot.

After the two men were arrested on multiple felony charges, Tawanna Hilliard complained in text messages that her son “has no line of defense because his [co-defendant] told everything,” and claimed that Tyquan’s accomplice was “trying to jam my son up.” The co-defendant, identified in court documents as John Doe, had spoken to police after his arrest, and Tawanna Hilliard got hold of the video footage of the statement, which was part of the discovery material for her son’s pending court case. She allegedly posted it on YouTube, titling it, “NYC Brim Gang Member Snitching Pt. 1.”

After being outed as a “snitch,” the accomplice soon faced retaliation both inside and outside jail, prosecutors said. Inmates with ties to the Bloods threatened to kill him, and the FBI also discovered that his family members were receiving death threats.

According to court documents, Tawanna Hilliard told people in text messages that more videos were coming, and that what she had uploaded was “the tip of the iceberg.” John Doe was “giving up murders, victims, shooters and all,” she claimed.

“SMH,” she concluded — short for “shaking my head.”

Tyquan Hilliard also allegedly made similar statements from behind bars, sending letters to the FBI and a prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York, among others, and threatening to upload more videos. When investigators searched Tawanna Hilliard’s Brooklyn home last September, they reportedly found that she had stashed away multiple video interviews from defendants in the case, including one that featured another accomplice.

Both mother and son face charges including witness tampering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and obtaining information from a government computer, according to the indictment filed in the Eastern District of New York.

After pleading not guilty on Tuesday, Tawanna Hilliard was released on $75,000 bond and ordered not to contact her son or any other gang members while awaiting trial. It wasn’t immediately clear whether she had an attorney. Tyquan Hilliard, who is serving a 10-year sentence at an Upstate New York prison on robbery and assault charges stemming from the holdup at the cellphone store, has not yet been arraigned on the new charges.

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