A grand jury in Atlanta indicted 26 people, including Young Thug and Gunna, on Monday for suspected ties to YSL, or “Young Slime Life,” a “criminal street gang,” according to prosecutors. A 56-count indictment reviewed by VICE claims that since 2013, members of YSL have committed murder, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and other charges in order to “improve the name, authority, and territory” of YSL.
The indictment is 88 pages long and contains numerous allegations. Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) has been alleged to have been violated by all 28 defendants in the indictment. Both Thug and Gunna are currently being imprisoned in Fulton County jail after being arrested and turning themselves in.
Many claims have been made in the indictment against Young Thug, including that, while imprisoned in Fulton County Prison, he talked with two defendants gaining Thug’s “permission” to kill rapper YFN Lucci and renting a car used in that murder. Thug’s song lyrics and social media posts are also regularly cited in the indictment as evidence of proof of his connection with Young Money Entertainment (YSL), which the prosecution claims was co-founded by him.
To prove Thug’s membership in the gang, the prosecution often points to photographs of him sporting the “YSL will not fold” slogan and holding up a “YSL, wipe an— nose” sign in videos and photos posted online.
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Thug’s record label, 300 Entertainment’s Young Stoner Life, has the initials of Young Slime Life.) To Thug’s lawyer Brian Steel, the rapper “vehemently denies the claims brought against him” and “looks forward to defending this case in court.”
Defendants Young Thug and Gunna (born Sergio Kitchens) are facing a hefty RICO charge. A lawyer who’s been litigating RICO cases since the 1990s developed a textbook about the law, and teaches RICO at the University of Minnesota Law School was called in by VICE to help them understand the law. He offered his thoughts on how the YSL case would proceed and explained the nuances of the contentious law on which it is based.
Jeff Grell: That’s a great question. It’s a no-brainer if these individuals are guilty of what they’re accused of doing. RICO cases aren’t always straightforward to prosecute. In the case of flagrant criminal activity, such as the charges against them – murder, assault, drug trafficking, and attempted murder — racketeering is unquestionably the appropriate term. As a prosecutor, you’d have a long way to go if they did those things.
Young Thug was charged with conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and participation in street gang activity. pic.twitter.com/9J5nBSbVNi
— BallerAlert (@balleralert) May 10, 2022
Which defendants, including Young Thug, Gunna, and the rest, do you believe are in jeopardy right now?
For all the defendants, it’s impossible to say that. Williams [Young Thug] has been suspected of numerous terrible crimes, but he has not been charged with the murder of anyone. Because of this, he is in a different situation than those who have been charged with murder. Many of his connections to the conspiracy may be traced back to videos he’s posted and songs and lyrics he’s written.
RICO has been criticized in the past for making it easy to link yourself to a conspiracy and be held accountable as a conspirator under its provisions. A simple endorsement of the group’s illicit activities, such as legitimizing its image or raising the group’s street cred, is all that’s needed. When it comes to criminal trials, the intent is often the deciding factor. You don’t have to be charged with a crime to be accused of something.
In order to help the criminal organization, all you have to do is take action. So, in a sense, you’re accepting or embracing the criminal organization’s objectives.
Lawyers for Williams and the other defendants are likely to claim that they wanted to appear aggressive and like street thugs, but that they were not in fact street thugs. A well-known rapper. What’s the point of his messing around with things like this?
The indictment includes charges of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, murder, armed robbery , participation in criminal street gang activity. @wsbtv @MarkWinneWSB
— Michael Seiden (@SeidenWSBTV) May 10, 2022
So why not just charge these people with the crimes for which they’ve been implicated instead of going after RICO charges?
RICO was designed to show that criminal convictions don’t require bloody hands. You go back to the Godfather. You don’t have to be the one to fire the shot. You don’t have to sell drugs yourself. You need not be involved in any criminal activity. You need pretty direct evidence of someone saying, “Go kill this person,” or “This is how I would kill this person,” to charge a conspiracy.
A RICO claim is much broader. Knowingly operating and managing a racketeering enterprise. You don’t have to commit any crimes, know what’s going on, or benefit from it.
Williams is accused of some serious crimes, but not as many as other defendants. His accusations aren’t all criminal. In a vacuum, you can sing about anything you want. Nobody claims Martin Scorsese is part of the Italian Mafia, and he’s not being charged under RICO. Not just his songs and videos matter. It’s about his intention to further YSL’s criminal goals. That’s the crux.
Is there anything else RICO allows prosecutors to do that they can’t do without it?
RICO gets a lot of press. If they were charged with aggravated assault, you probably wouldn’t be talking to me. You want to get the word out in the media that this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated, even by big musical artists. So RICO is great for prosecutors.
Another big advantage is that a big case like this can save resources compared to 28 smaller cases. Contrary to popular belief, prosecutors do not have unlimited resources. As a prosecutor, you have more smoke if all these defendants are together. So many people! They’re all connected; they’re childhood friends; they grew up in the same neighborhood. You want to make this seem criminal. So it’s helpful to get a jury thinking: These people are all connected, and this is all coordinated criminal activity.
Prosecutors like RICO because it helps them paint a bigger picture. Some may argue that presenting it this way is more truthful. A defense attorney will say, “No, don’t focus on the umbrella. Focus on my guy or girl. Maybe they messed up, but they’re not in this. They shouldn’t be guilty because they went to junior high with someone.”
— Michael Seiden (@SeidenWSBTV) May 10, 2022
What challenges do prosecutors face when prosecuting RICO cases?
Cooperation is key. The indictment alleges witness intimidation, obstruction of justice, etc. That’s common with illegitimate businesses like this one: People are often afraid to speak. It’s difficult. The cases are also complex. The jury will receive thick instructions. They must read and understand all the instructions, pay attention to the evidence, and apply the facts and evidence to the law.
Prosecutors must prove their cases. And you have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, not just a preponderance of the evidence, not even 50/50. So that’s always a concern for prosecutors: getting the evidence to the jury so they can put it all together and convict.
As a defense attorney, knock out one pillar and the whole structure falls. As a prosecutor, you build everything. It must remain built.
I’ll discuss Young Thug. How bad do things look for him based on the indictment? How compromised is he?
We are still looking for Caswell Senior, aka Casanova, in connection with this case. He has connections to both NY and NJ. If you have information about his whereabouts, please call us at 1-800-CALL-FBI. pic.twitter.com/W38fCnBFpt
— FBI New York (@NewYorkFBI) December 1, 2020
No evidence. I doubt anyone else has seen the evidence. It appears they have recordings; perhaps they tapped phones and installed listening devices. He was active on social media.
In one way, he’s screwed because he’ll have to pay a lot in legal fees. Even if he’s innocent and wins, he’ll spend a fortune. If the indictment is true and there’s evidence, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. If the evidence is strong, a defense attorney would advise their client to plead guilty and seek a reduced sentence. You must review all the evidence before advising your client on a plea deal. Even if you’re a lawyer, it’s your client’s decision. The legal team will follow Williams for as long as he wants. The longer he fights, the better plea deal they’ll get.
As a lawyer, I’d rather be on the prosecution’s side after reading the indictment. We don’t have access to exculpatory evidence or the defense’s side of the story.
Prosecutors claim Young Thug rented a car used in a murder. How bad is that for him? Should he be worried?
It’s his intent, again. Did he know it was for murder? He must have rented the car knowing it would be used in a crime. This crime, no. Perhaps he thought they were going to rob or kill the man. If you wanted to further a crime, you’re doomed. The intent is key.
I was also surprised by how often prosecutors brought up Young Thug’s lyrics and photos of him wearing YSL gear or making gang signs. Why do prosecutors hype this, and can it be used as evidence in court?
Those convicted had less evidence. The conspiracy charges are so broad. I’ve gotten calls from inmates who sat down for a beer or coffee and allegedly discussed better ways to commit a crime, launder money, and deal drugs. And they’d been retired for 10 years. But after a brief conversation with a friend, they’re convicted of conspiracy. Including all of that as a prosecutor is just another death sentence. The prosecutor asks, “How can he claim he doesn’t intend to further YSL’s goal when every song, lyric, and reference is to YSL and their criminal agenda?”
Young Thug & Gunna are among 28 defendants charged in a 56 count indictment in Fulton. Thug was arrested & is facing charges of participation in street gang activity & conspiring to violate the RICO Act while Gunna is facing his own count of conspiring to violate the RICO. @wsbtv pic.twitter.com/NtUMPQW2xd
— Everything Georgia (@GAFollowers) May 10, 2022
What legal strategies do you think Williams’ defense lawyers will use to fight these charges?
As a non-member of his defense team, it’s hard to imagine the conversations and strategies that will be used. I’d expect a defense attorney to note that these are song lyrics. I think the Martin Scorsese comparison is valid: Why wasn’t Scorsese on trial with John Gotti, the Gambino crime boss? Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather)? As a defense lawyer, I’d make it a First Amendment issue. Inspire yourself as an artist. If he gets inspiration from these gangs, that’s no different than Scorsese or anyone else. I would probably go down that path as a defense attorney to a degree.
“You’re just trying to convict him because he knows these people, or grew up with these people, or hangs out with these people,” I’m sure would say.
Young Thug is accused of being an accessory to murder, while Gunna is accused of drug distribution. How does Gunna compare to Young Thug?
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How long till YSL’s trial?
I’d say at least a year before trial. If you have resources like Williams, every month you delay is a month saved. Bail means you’re free. As long as you’re under indictment, you can’t go to prison. Many spend money on this. So it’ll be a while.
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) May 10, 2022