Gang leader and two members convicted of racketeering conspiracy

NEWARK, NJ — Three members of the New Jersey set of the violent street gang “Grape Street Crips” — including its long-time leader — were convicted by a federal jury on July 13 of racketeering conspiracy and a host of murders, shootings and drug trafficking crimes, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, FBI Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie and DEA Special Agent in Charge Valerie A. Nickerson announced.

The leader of the enterprise, Corey Hamlet, aka “C-Blaze,” “Blaze,” “Blizzie” and “Castor Troy,” 41, of Belleville, and associates Tony Phillips, aka “Blue,” 27, of Newark, and Ahmad Manley, aka “Fresh” and “Moddi G,” 32, of Summit, were convicted following a two-month trial before U.S. District Judge Madeline Cox Arleo in Newark federal court. The jury deliberated for four days before returning the verdicts.

“The jury’s verdicts are the culmination of this office’s investigation and prosecution of more than 60 members of the Grape Street Crips, a violent criminal organization that committed murders and other acts of violence in order to maintain control of a large portion of the illegal drug trade in Newark,” Carpenito said in a press release. “Today’s convictions of Corey Hamlet, the leader of that organization, as well as two of his senior gang members, represent our steadfast, ongoing commitment to ensuring the safety of New Jersey’s citizens and the communities in which they live. We will not back down from our duty to protect the public through the investigation and prosecution of violent and dangerous criminals like Hamlet and his gang.”

“The FBI is working jointly with county and local authorities, to include the local community, to combat the violent epidemic of gangs in our neighborhoods,” Ehrie said in the release. “In this collaborative effort in delivering the greatest impact toward restoring the community and bringing those bad seeds to justice, the Grape Street Crips, one of the most violent Newark gangs, was dismantled in this joint investigation. The gang was responsible for four murders, an attempted murder, racketeering conspiracy and drug trafficking. With the conviction of Corey Hamlet, the gang’s leader, and two of his associates, the Grape Street Crips gang will have been dealt a serious blow.”

“The members of the Grape Street Crips have wreaked havoc in the city of Newark for years by committing violent murders, shootings and drug trafficking,” Nickerson said in the release. “Now the residents of Newark can rest easier knowing that these criminals have been convicted of these serious charges. The collaboration between the DEA and our law enforcement partners exemplified outstanding investigative efforts resulting in the successful conviction of some of Newark’s most violent criminals. These efforts will have a positive impact on our communities and the residents of this great city.”

The defendants were charged in November 2016 in a 22-count indictment charging 14 members and associates with, among other things, six murders, 12 attempted murders, and numerous other violent and drug-trafficking crimes committed as part of the racketeering conspiracy. Twelve of the 14 defendants charged in the indictment have now been convicted. The two remaining defendants, Hanee Cureton and Khalil Stafford, are pending trial and are considered innocent unless or until they are proved guilty in a court of law.

An additional 68 members and associates of the Grape Street Crips who were arrested in a coordinated takedown in May 2015 were separately charged with drug-trafficking, physical assaults, and witness intimidation. Sixty-six of those individuals also have been convicted, and charges remain pending against two.

According to the documents filed in this case and other cases and the evidence presented at trial, the Grape Street Crips engaged for years in numerous acts of murder, robbery, extortion and drug trafficking throughout Newark. As the leader of the New Jersey set of the Grape Street Crips, Hamlet authorized six murders committed by members of the gang.

The trial highlighted numerous violent acts committed by Grape Street Crips members as part of the racketeering conspiracy, some of which targeted members of rival gangs and others that targeted Grape Street Crips members whom Hamlet perceived to be a threat to his position as the leader of the gang: the murder of Leroy Simmons on June 14, 2010; the murder of Rodney Kearney on Dec. 23, 2010; the murder of Tariq Johnson on May 3, 2013; the attempted murders of Almalik Anderson and Saidah Goines on Oct. 27, 2013; the murder of Anwar West on Nov. 12, 2013; and the murder of Andre Singh on Aug. 3, 2015.

The trial revealed that Hamlet ordered many of the murders as revenge against Almalik Anderson, a rival with whom he had a long-running dispute. One of Hamlet’s fellow gang-members attempted to broker a truce with Anderson at the Short Hills Mall. After the meeting in Short Hills, Hamlet used his Instagram account to assert that Anderson had cooperated with law enforcement. On Hamlet’s orders, Phillips, Manley and other gang members then hunted Anderson down and sprayed his car with bullets, nearly killing him and passenger Saidah Goines, a relative. Within two weeks, Hamlet successfully ordered two other gang members to murder Anwar West, the fellow gang member who had attempted to broker peace between Hamlet and Anderson.

Hamlet was convicted of 10 counts in the indictment, including RICO conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, various other violent crimes in aid of racketeering, using firearms during crimes of violence and conspiracy to distribute 28 grams or more of crack-cocaine. As part of the RICO conspiracy, Hamlet was convicted for his role in the murders of Tariq Johnson and Anwar West. Hamlet faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Phillips was convicted of 10 counts in the indictment, including RICO conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, various other violent crimes in aid of racketeering, using firearms during crimes of violence, and conspiracy to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin. Phillips, too, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Manley was convicted of eight counts in the indictment, including RICO conspiracy. As part of the RICO conspiracy, Manley was convicted for his role in the attempted murders of Almalik Anderson and Saidah Goines. On two counts of conviction, Manley faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, including a mandatory minimum term of 15 years.

The evidence at trial also showed that members of the Grape Street Crips controlled drug-trafficking at a number of Newark public-housing complexes, including Oscar Miles, Riverview Court, Pennington Court, Wynona Lipman Gardens, Kemsco Village, John W. Hyatt housing complex and the former Baxter Terrace public-housing complex.

Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 15.