(DETROIT, MI) – A leader of the Vice Lords street gang was sentenced yesterday to 146 months for his role in various criminal gang-related activities, including the May 7, 2015, shooting of four people with an AK-47 assault rifle.
Kenneth Smith, 36, of Detroit, pleaded guilty on February 22, 2016, before US District Judge David M Lawson of the Eastern District of Michigan, to one count of RICO conspiracy and one count of failure to appear in court.
In connection with his plea, Smith admitted that the Vice Lords is a national gang broken down into various “sets,” “decks,” or “branches,” which includes the Detroit-based Traveling Vice Lords (TVL), and that these sets operate in a hierarchical chain of command, answering to the gang’s leaders in Chicago and Detroit.
Vice Lords members engage in a variety of racketeering crimes in furtherance of the gang’s activities, including shootings of rivals, armed robberies and narcotics trafficking. In addition, gang members impose punishment on members for violations of the gang’s rules, including for attempts to leave or withdraw from the gang, which often result in a physical beating or a “green light” order to kill.
Pursuant to his plea agreement, Smith admitted that he was a leader of the TVL, and that, in May 2015, he directed other members of the TVL to search for two individuals who had attempted to leave the gang in order to harm them. Smith further admitted that on May 7, 2015, members of the TVL traveled in multiple cars to the intended victims’ house, including a car owned by Smith’s girlfriend, where TVL members shot four victims with an AK-47.
As part of his plea, Smith also admitted that, while on pretrial release for a prior indictment in this case, he sent numerous text messages threatening harm to a potential witness and that witness’s children if the witness continued “telling” on the Vice Lords. Smith also admitted that, when the government filed a motion to revoke his pretrial release, he removed the GPS tether he had been ordered to wear as a condition of pretrial release and willfully failed to appear in court.
Smith is the last of nine defendants charged in connection with the May 7, 2015, shooting to be sentenced. Eight other members and leaders of the TVL previously pleaded guilty to charges related to the shooting and received sentences ranging from 36 to 240 months in prison for their respective roles.
In addition, a tenth defendant previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 48 months in prison for witness tampering stemming from his role in accessing the shooting victims’ medical records to provide identifying information to Vice Lords gang members who wished to prevent the victims from cooperating in the investigation.