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Street survivors

Sex Money Murder, quashed elsewhere, finds niche in Kingston

by Jesse J. Smith
May 05, 2011 04:33 PM | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It is an ordinary black and white marbled composition book, the kind everyone remembers from school. But instead of algebra equations or lists of U.S. presidents, the book, seized from a Kingston youth who was allegedly part of a crew which targeted food deliverymen and cab drivers for assault and robbery, contains essential knowledge for prospective members of the violent street gang known as “Sex Money Murder.”

Inside, in neat red block print, is the gang’s Worldwide Lineup, a list of “OGs” like gang founder “Pistol Pete Rollack,” and “Brazy Face.” There’s the “31-second pledge” and the legend of the Queen of Sheba. The book teaches that “First Avenue” is Sunday and a “Red Donkey” is not to be trusted.

The notebook, and hundreds more like it, form the living legacy of Rollack and the Sex Money Murder Bloods. A decade after the original gang was smashed and its leaders imprisoned (see “The Bronx Connection” in last week’s Kingston Times) young disciples, some of whom were still in diapers when Rollack and his crew ran the streets of Midtown, keep the gang’s brand alive with violence and intimidation.

Sex Money Murder, long known to law enforcement and residents of the gang’s Midtown turf, burst into the wider public consciousness with the February 2010 murder of Charles “C.J.” King Jr. in what authorities described as a well-orchestrated hit by gang members to prevent King from testifying against a fellow Blood facing charges after a Henry Street shooting the previous autumn. The killing and the high-profile first-degree murder trial of alleged gang members Gary “G-Money” Griffin and Trevor “Little T” Mattis laid bare the sinister workings of the gang in everything from small-time purse snatchings to shootings. Mattis and Griffin were convicted on all counts in what police believe is the first-ever first-degree murder trial in the county; they face sentencing this Friday in county court. Five more gang members or associates still face criminal charges, accused of participating in a conspiracy to locate and silence King.

“One of the things this trial brought out is that it’s here,” said Kingston Police Detective Sgt. Bob Henry, who has conducted hundreds of interviews with SMM members since the gang arrived in Kingston from the Bronx in the mid-1990s. “You had naysayers who would tell you its not here. But if it’s not here, Charles King would still be alive.”

Malevolent tradition

In the ’90s, Rollack and his contemporaries ran huge quantities of drugs, amassed fortunes in ill-gotten loot and lived the high life at the intersection of street celebrity and hip-hop fame. By the end of the decade, though, federal prosecutions had brought the glory days to an abrupt end. Today, the gang is kept alive by a body of knowledge passed along from senior members to new recruits and gang leaders who call shots from the state’s prison system.

“After that push, we saw that Sex Money Murder members would still come around, but not in the same numbers. But the influence and belief systems were still there,” said Henry. “You cut the head off of the body, but the body still exists.”

That belief system consists of a huge body of gang lore, language, hand signs and codes as well as rank structures and strict rules which are intended to keep law enforcement in the dark and keep whole communities silent about gang activity. Recruits are indoctrinated into the Blood code as early as middle school, often by older siblings or other family members with gang ties. Robberies, assaults and drug sales on behalf of senior members make up an aspiring member’s apprenticeship period. Through it all, would-be recruits are pushed by their superiors to learn — and live by — the code.

“Part of their everyday life is to fill their head with knowledge, this is stuff you need to live the way you have to live, to avoid law enforcement, to love your brothers and to respect Bloods,” said Henry of the notebooks and code sheets he regularly finds on young gang members. “It’s a snapshot into the way Sex Money Murder gang members should live.”

Kingston, where police handed Rollack his first felony arrest as a 19-year-old drug dealer, remains a bastion of Sex Money Murder even as the gang’s influence in the Bronx and in the state prison system has waned, supplanted by new gangs.

“There’s not too much activity with Sex Money Murder these days. A lot of the older guys are getting smarter, they’ve gotten out of what they were doing or they’re just selling drugs and not doing the violence,” said Lou Savelli, a retired NYPD gang expert. “But they’re probably bigger in Kingston proportionally than anywhere else in New York State.”

The young “Blazers,” according to Henry and other local law enforcement sources, account for a significant proportion of the street crime in Midtown Kingston. Sometimes the crimes seem staggeringly petty — alleged gang member Lee “Justice” Gray was recently sentenced to seven years in prison for attacking a man near Planet Wings, making off with $20 and a cell phone. He was arrested after he attempted to ransom the phone back to the victim for $100. Mattis, an alleged gang member and convicted triggerman in the King hit, did his first stint in state prison for punching a woman in the parking lot of the Broadmoor apartments and stealing $40.

“These are low-level assault and street robbery guys, they’re not the brain surgeons they make them out to be on TV,” said Savelli. “But they make the best recruits because they’ll do anything and everything to advance the interests of the gang.”

Violence, and arrogance

District Attorney Holley Carnright blamed the gang for a series of street robberies which plagued the Midtown in 2008 and 2009. The violence, and arrogance, of the gang was, he said, one reason why he chose to pursue a complex conspiracy case against seven alleged members for the King murder rather than the “easy play” of convicting Mattis alone for second-degree murder.

“Their attitude was, this is our territory, we can do what we want here, they felt that they actually controlled the neighborhood,” said Carnright. “[The robberies] were a statement by people in the gang that they were in control.”

But Henry said that small-time robberies and seemingly random assaults can also serve as pathway to advancement. According to the SMM code, such crimes have to be carried out according to regulations and witnessed by senior gang members to earn “street credit” (Police believe that Griffin and another senior gang member stood half a block away from the site of King’s murder to “validate” the hit in accordance with SMM rules).

“Part of the vetting process would be to put in your work when you’re assigned a task … and that task could be assaulting a civilian on their way to church,” said Henry. “It might seem petty to you and me, but to the gang it was an assignment.”

Sometimes, the violence is more serious. In October 2010, two alleged Crip gang members were attacked outside of 34 Henry St. One man was shot and wounded, the other pistol-whipped. Police believe that the gunman, who has not been identified, was a Sex Money Murder Blood who took offense at the rival gang members selling drugs on SMM turf. Less than a year earlier at the exact same address, Curtis Williams was shot in the face, allegedly by SMM member Jarrin “Phat Boy” Rankin. Police believe that Williams, concerned for the safety of his teenage son, confronted Rankin and other gang members wielding a shotgun (Williams was acquitted of weapons possession charges in the case last month). King witnessed the shootout and testified about it to a grand jury. Police believe that led to his murder.

Using the youth

Drugs, particularly crack cocaine, are the economic lifeblood of the gang. But while the original SMM Bloods moved kilos up and down the eastern seaboard, their 21st century disciples operate on a smaller scale. According to Savelli, before the crack cocaine era gang members usually “aged out” of gang activity by their early 20s, today, older gang members may maintain their affiliation while using up-and-coming members to perform the risky work of street level dealing.

“Because gangs are so prevalent today and because of the profits involved in drugs some guys are staying in the gang longer,” said Savelli. “You recruit some young guys to take all the risks and you reap the rewards.”

For Kingston’s Sex Money Murder crew, police believe that Griffin, a 30-year-old ex-convict with gang affiliation dating back to the set’s heyday in the Soundview Projects, served as the main supplier of cocaine for his younger confederates. Witness and alleged conspirator Amanda Miller testified at Griffin’s trial that she would accompany him to the Bronx where he would pick up cocaine to distribute to fellow gang members to sell on the streets. The system of junior members selling drugs for higher-ranking Bloods is called “stack drop” in gang parlance and played a significant role in SMM’s criminal enterprise.

If gang members win acceptance on the street, the state prison system is where they make rank. According to Henry, young SMM members at the county jail en-route to state prison are exhorted to study up on gang knowledge so that they can establish their bona fides to the gang’s prison hierarchy.

“Make sure you get on your knowledge because when you go up top you’re going to need to know that shit,” said Henry, describing a typical phone exchange between a jailed gang member heading for his first prison stint and a “street boss.”

“Because if you show up and you don’t know this stuff, and you’re claiming to be Blood, you’ve got problems.”

From the slammer to the street

Henry said that the countywide Ulster Regional Gang Enforcement Narcotics Team (URGENT) has traced the hierarchy of Kingston’s Sex Money Murder set directly to state prisons. There, Henry said, local members who make rank have the opportunity to communicate with even higher-ranking members, including members of the original SMM crew via a system of couriers (according to Henry, in-person visits have largely replaced the gang’s former system of using coded letters to communicate gang business).

“Most of the OGs get that status by putting in work and part of that work involves state prison,” said Henry. “You don’t talk, you take your punishment, you follow the guidelines and your status is elevated.”

A few weeks before the King hit, Miller made a trip to Coxsackie State Prison to visit Kingston Blood Ashton “Ashmatic” Dixon. Dixon is serving 12 years on charges stemming from a gang fight in a Kingston schoolyard which left one man shot and another slashed. According to DA Carnright and Detective Sgt. Henry, Miller traveled to the prison to get the approval of senior gang members, communicated through Dixon, to kill the suspected informant.

“Nothing is going to happen, especially not a homicide that’s going to bring all sorts of heat to everybody involved, without permission,” said Henry.

The ranks of Kingston SMM members in state prison has swelled since 2007 when Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum formed the task force to pull together resources from local and county agencies under one roof with the express purpose of tackling gangs. Since then, dozens of members have been locked up for drug sales. The unit’s elaborate tracing of the hierarchy and relationships among gang members, which occupies an entire wall at the URGENT headquarters in the county law enforcement center, has helped solve gang-related killings, shootings and robberies.

The heavy fallout from the King killing has contributed to the pressure on Sex Money Murder. Henry wouldn’t venture a guess as to how many members are in the city, since it fluctuates on a near daily basis, but he said hard core gang members, especially from out of town, had been keeping their distance. “Right now, the numbers are way down, because of the circumstances and the kind of attention they’ve been getting,” said Henry. “But that can change at any time. Something happens [to a Kingston gang member], somebody makes a call and within a few hours, we’ll see people showing up from the Bronx.”

Henry and Ulster County Undersheriff Frank Faluotico said that URGENT’s hammering on street-level drug sales by SMM members had led to a disturbing new trend in the gang’s criminal activity — home invasion robberies of drug dealers. Fearful of getting caught in an undercover drug sting, gang members are seeking out “soft targets” including marijuana dealers and growers in rural areas in northern Ulster County. Despite the crackdown, Henry said, Sex Money Murder is likely to remain in Kingston as long as composition books full of gang knowledge pass from hand to hand on city streets and school hallways.

“One thing these guys and gals know how to do is adapt,” said Henry. “They are survivors.”
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