One of Atlanta’s most popular hip-hop artists, Young Thug, was arrested on May 9 in the city’s well-heeled Buckhead area, along with fellow rapper Gunna and other associates, for alleged gang activity as part of a 52-count RICO indictment.
RICO — the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act — is a federal law that allows for prosecution and civil penalties for racketeering activity. It was originally used in the 1970s to prosecute the Mafia and others involved in ongoing organized crime.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said she has made it a priority to target gangs, and pointed out that more than 75 percent of violent crimes in Fulton County are connected with street gangs. About 90 percent of the city of Atlanta is in Fulton County.
During Young Thug’s decade-plus career, three of his albums reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart.
Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, was charged with participation in criminal street activity and conspiracy to violate the RICO Act, according to the indictment, Fox 5 Atlanta reported.
He made his first court appearance on May 10. Prosecutors say Young Thug was named in an 88-page indictment for alleged gang activity along with 28 other people.
Also named was Sergio Giavanni Kitchens, who performs professionally as Gunna. Gunna is signed to Young Thug’s record label YSL Records, as well as 300 Entertainment and Atlantic Records.
The indictment alleges that Young Thug is a founder of Young Slime Life, a criminal street gang that began in Atlanta in 2012 and is affiliated with the national Bloods gang. Young Thug’s record label — YSL Records or Young Stoner Life Records — often refers to the artists on its roster as part of the “Slime Family.” The compilation album, “Slime Language 2,” hit No. 1 on the charts in April 2021.
The indictment lists more than 180 acts that support just the first of several separate charges handed down to the various members of the YSL. Among those charges are murder, aggravated assault, firearms violations, theft, drug possession, participating in street gang activity, armed robbery, and carjacking between 2012 and 2020, The New York Times reported.
It also alleges that the gang was involved in a variety of illegal activities including witness intimidation, murder, attempted murder, carjacking, robbery, theft, and drug dealing.
Among the victims of shootings or attempted shootings named in the indictment is Dwayne Carter, aka Lil Wayne, whose tour bus was shot at by a YSL member Jimmy Winfrey in April 2015.
Young Thug is named as having committed a number of illegal acts for which he is not charged but which are described as “overt acts” in furtherance of the group’s criminal conspiracy. This includes threatening to kill a man at a mall and possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute it. Young Thug is also alleged to have rented a silver Infiniti Q50 sedan that was used in the commission of the murder of a rival gang leader, Donovan Thomas Jr., in January 2015.
Due to the large number of RICO charges and the massive amount of details in the indictment, some Twitter users suggested that the authorities were tipped off by insider informants.
“With RICO indictments they normally have everything they need before they can get a warrant for arrest. They definitely got an informant on the inside too. Probably caught a bullshit charge and gave up Thug and Gunna,” tweeted Brian Lamont @9thWDBee9.
“i don’t like talking about street politics as a “civilian” but 56 counts and RICO charges smells like someone had to be an informant for a good amount of time,” @JOHNNYCATO000 tweeted.
Others say Young Thug and Gunna told on themselves through bragging about crime on social media and in their music videos and song lyrics.
In fact, lyrics and music videos from Young Thug, Gunna, and other artists are cited throughout Part 3 of the indictment. During the May 10 press conference, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said her office did examine the social media accounts and songs of the two artists.
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Willis is a Democrat best known for investigating whether former President Donald Trump and his allies committed election fraud in Georgia. Now, she said her focus is on cracking down on violent crime.
“It does not matter what your notoriety is or what your fame is, if you come to Fulton County, Georgia and you commit crimes – and certainly if those crimes are in furtherance of a street gang – then you will become a target and focus of this district attorney’s office and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” Willis said.
Willis is a fan of social media as a tool for prosecutors. “Social media is a wonderful tool for prosecutors in every indictment we bring nowadays,” she said. Regarding rap lyrics specifically, she added, “I believe in the First Amendment […] however, it does not protect people from prosecutors [who are] using it as evidence, if it is such.”
The Moguldom Nation CEO Jamarlin Martin tweeted, “The US GOV& police may not need informants in the crew. They can watch DJ VLAD, YouTube beef videos, & IG, ‘mapping’ everything out. That’s the modern detective & informant. The ‘clout economy’ has perverse incentives.”
So-called evidence such as lyrics and Instagram pictures don’t always stick, tweeted attorney and abolitionist NAT THE PEOPLE’S CHAMP.
“Based off the info simply provided in the indictment, the RICO charges are ‘weak,’ & I say that very loosely, against Gunna in my opinion. State RICO law is really broad so that’s why they are trying to put so much ‘evidence’ like lyrics & IG pics in case some don’t stick,” she tweeted.
Photo: Atlanta rapper Young Thug (Jeffery Lamar Williams) was one of 28 people indicted May 9, 2022, in Georgia on conspiracy to violate the state’s RICO Act and street gang charges. ( Booking photo from Fulton County Sheriff’s Office via AP)