Jury Returns Guilty Verdict in RICO Gang Case

Jury Returns Guilty Verdict in RICO Gang Case

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A purported gang leader accused of running a criminal enterprise from his cell has been convicted on federal racketeering charges.

The U.S. District Court jury returned guilty verdicts on all charges against Tyrese Sharod Smith late Wednesday after six hours deliberation.

Smith faced a firearms charge and two counts under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law -- one of conspiracy and the other of murder-in-aide-of-racketeering.

He faces potential a life sentence on each county. Sentencing was set for Aug. 5 at 3 p.m.

Prosecutors claimed Smith relayed orders for members to kill rivals and rob drug dealers.

His lawyer told the jury that the government dusted off Smith's old murder conviction and random crimes of assorted members in a bid to levy a case.

It marked the first time federal prosecutors in Utah used the sweeping anti-organized crime statute to bust a street gang, the King Mafia Disciples.

Authorities rounded up ten of the multiracial gang members a year ago. Eight took plea bargains, and three of them testified against Smith, the only one to go on trial. Another case is pending.

"We're obviously very pleased with the verdict and think this is going to send a strong message to gangs and others who engage in the kind of conduct Smith was involved in that there are some very stiff penalties waiting," said Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney.

"We don't think it's going to be the last RICO charge we're going to bring against gangs in Utah," she said.

Smith, 28, has been locked up in solitary confinement since 1994 for ordering a revenge killing.

Yet Smith relayed orders to members in wiretapped telephone calls from prison, using barely disguised code for criminal conduct, assistant U.S. Attorney Richard McKelvie said. Smith's sometimes detailed instructions, delivered in slang, were played at trial.

The gang financed itself by raiding the homes or apartments of drug dealers and parolees who would be unlikely to report the crimes, stealing drugs, cash and weapons, McKelvie said.

When Smith's often incompetent followers staged one home invasion robbery, they brought a baseball bat to a gunfight, barely escaping with their lives. Another time, they set out on a revenge killing only to bungle a firebombing by throwing duds of Molotov cocktails at a brick building not occupied by any rival gangsters.

"Tell these guys they're canceled," an angry Smith was recorded to have said from prison.

His three cohorts begged for another chance, and on Feb. 22, 1996, they sneaked onto the porch of a Salt Lake City home, where a rival gangster had moved away months earlier.

The killers poked a 12-gauge shotgun through an open window and killed another man, Joey Miera, as he slept at his cousin's home.

McKelvie called Smith the undisputed deity of a gang 40 to 50 members strong who wrote a bible of gang conduct from prison, issued grisly orders and demanded to be consulted on new members.

Defense attorney Catherine Conklin dismissed King Mafia Disciples as a small, ineffective gang held together only by friendship and protection.

With Smith in prison, members ignored his leadership and committed their own, random crimes, acting for themselves and not a criminal enterprise, Conklin argued.

Assailing the credibility of Smith's accusers, she said one was an FBI-groomed informant who received $50,000 in government money while selling drugs and guns on the side.

Smith already is serving five years to life for murder plus a nine-year gang enhancement sentence.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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