Lessons learned from gang case | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | December 7, 2017 5:00 pm
Last Updated: December 6, 2017 at 2:15 pm
Federal court offers options not available under S.C. law.
“The recent sentencing of eight gang members or gang associates in Walterboro highlights two things,” 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said. “The first is the value of our long-standing relationship with the U.S. Justice Department. The second is the need for a gang statute, much like the Federal RICO Act, in South Carolina.”
The arrest, conviction and sentencing of members of the Cowboys street gang are a result of a partnership between the 14th and 1st Circuit Solicitor’s Offices, several South Carolina law-enforcement agencies and the U.S. Department of Justice.
This effort, which began in 2015, resulted in 17 successful prosecutions in Federal District Court and included members of a second street gang, the Wildboys.
Most were charged under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO.)
“What the federal RICO act allows you to do is to take out many of the gang members all at once. That is the only way to dismantle a gang,” Stone said. “If you take a piecemeal approach and go after one at a time, they are replaced by the time you get them into bond court.”
Stone said federal law provides several investigative and prosecutorial tools not available under South Carolina law. Among them:
n The ability to prosecute several members of a criminal enterprise in a single trial, rather than separately.
n Language that makes it a crime in itself to lie to a federal investigator. The possibility of prosecution for that offense often prompts witnesses and suspects to provide useful information.
n An investigative grand jury that allows law enforcement and prosecutors to keep witness testimony under seal longer, making it possible to make roundup arrests before suspects have an opportunity to go underground.
State laws in Georgia and North Carolina include similar provisions, which Stone has discussed with prosecution officials in those states through his work with the National District Attorneys Association.
He intends to propose to South Carolina’s other solicitors that they collectively push for a state gang act.
Career Criminal Prosecutor Tameaka Legette was assigned by the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office to help federal prosecutors build their RICO cases against members of the Cowboys and Wildboys gangs in Colleton and Dorchester counties. Her role in that capacity will end after the last of the 17 defendants snared in the gang operation is sentenced.
However, the Solicitor’s Office will continue its separate, permanent partnership with the Department of Justice focused on drug traffickers and violent offenders who possess firearms.
Legette said the operation to root out the Cowboys and Wildboys gangs leaves Lowcountry streets much safer.
“I have not seen nearly the activity out of the Cowboys gang lately as I once did,” Legette said. “These prosecutions were a huge hit for their group … This whole thing has been a sweep, a big gang net. It would not have been possible in state court.”