• Donald V. Watkins

Feds' Blunder May Free Top Defendants in Atlanta RICO Case

Updated: Jan 23

A Special Investigative Report

By: Donald Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on 1/15/21


Overzealous prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Organized Crime and Gang Section in Washington, D.C. together with a prosecution team from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta, may have created a legal blunder in their 20-count racketeering case against a group of alleged Georgia-based members of “The Bloods” – a notorious street gang formed in the 1970s – that may end up freeing two of the top defendants in this Atlanta RICO case. This faux pas has surfaced in the pending criminal case of USA v. Mitchell, et al., U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta), Case No. 1:16-cr-00427-AT-JKL.


The case began on December 14, 2016 as a low-key, 3-count indictment against Khajavius Mitchell. By October 12, 2017, the case had morphed into a first Superseding Indictment that alleged a 22-count, 61-page RICO conspiracy against Mitchel and 29 additional defendants who are alleged to be members of the Georgia-based “Nine Trey Gangster” (NTG) set of “The Bloods”. The 2017 Indictment accused the 30 defendants of operating an ongoing criminal enterprise that engaged in murder, robbery, extortion, drug trafficking, interstate travel in aid of racketeering, witness tampering and retaliation against witnesses.


“Trial Attorney” Rebecca A Staton oversaw the RICO case from DOJ headquarters in Washington. Twenty-six of the 30 defendants were represented by public defenders and/or court appointed counsel. Four had retained counsel.


Six days after the First Superseding Indictment was filed, prosecutors requested court authorization to provide discovery information and Brady/Jencks Act materials to the 30 defendants. Jencks Act materials are documents that are exculpatory in nature. The requested authorization was granted on the same day. This was followed by a Government data dump of discovery information gathered by the Atlanta prosecution team. Fourteen days after the October 12, 2017 Indictment, prosecutors filed a “Motion to Declare the Case Complex”. No defense attorneys opposed the motion. It was granted on December 5, 2017.


“Complex Cases” are time-consuming, labor intensive, and require highly skilled legal representation. They also take years to adjudicate to completion. It is unclear from the record as to how many of the 30 defense counsel had prior experience in successfully defending RICO conspiracy defendants in judicially declared “Complex Cases” that involved an alleged nationwide racketeering enterprise like “The Bloods”. This is especially true for the 26 court-appointed defense counsel.


It is well-known in legal circles that public defenders and court-appointed counsel rarely prepare for and/or participate in the trials of “Complex Cases”. Instead of preparing litigation defense plans and engaging in trial preparation, in these cases, public defenders and court-appointed counsel generally head down the road of guilty plea negotiations from the outset. This is exactly what happened in this case. The guilty pleas started with Tremaine Garrison on March 9, 2018 and continued until 15 of the 30 defendants had pleaded “guilty” by the time the Second Superseding Indictment (Doc 1158) was filed on February 19, 2020.


As will be discussed in detail below, the “guilty” pleas occurred before the defendants received the full body of discovery information and Brady/Jencks Act materials to which they were entitled. Like the Jencks Act, a U.S. Supreme Court case commonly referred to as Brady, mandates that prosecutors provide the defendants all information and documents within their possession or control that are exculpatory in nature.


State Prosecutors Pursued a Spinoff Case Against Defendant Gordan Evans


While the First Superseding Indictment was pending, the Gwinnett County, Georgia District Attorney’s Office charged Gordon Evans, one of the 30 defendants in the 2017 Federal RICO case, with malice murder for the 2015 killing of NTG gang member Jeffrey Anderson, three counts of felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, aggravated battery, and two counts of criminal street gang activities. Anderson was killed by Dossie Mann, who pleaded guilty to the murder in 2017, and Durell Lewis, who pleaded “not guilty” in 2017 and was awaiting trial. Lewis eventually pleaded guilty to the murder charge, as well.


The October 12, 2017 federal indictment listed Jeffrey Anderson’s murder as a racketeering activity and alleged that Evans ordered Anderson killed from prison, where Evans was serving a 20-year sentence for armed robbery. The indictment also charged Evans with witness tampering and two counts of VICAR murder conspiracy.


Following a two-week trial in August 2018, Evans was convicted on August 17th on the state court charges. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 20 additional years in prison to run consecutively to the life sentence.


Did State Prosecutors Withhold Exculpatory Evidence Gathered by Federal Taskforce Agencies from Evans’ Defense Counsel?


In the 2017 federal indictment and in his subsequent state court criminal trial, federal and state prosecutors portrayed Evans, a/k/a “QB” as the leader of the NTG set of “The Bloods” in Georgia. Evans had denied this charge in court pleadings.


Gwinnett County’s D.A.’s office worked jointly with an FBI, DOJ, ATF, Atlanta U.S. Attorney’s Office, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security task force in developing and prosecuting its state case against Evans. It appears that Gwinnett County prosecutors may have withheld exculpatory evidence that was gathered and available to them from their federal taskforce partners from Evans’ defense counsel. This evidence was relevant to the criminal charges Evans faced, was material to his defense, and would likely have impacted the outcome of Evans’ state court trial in his favor. It further appears that federal prosecutors in Evans’ RICO case cherry-picked and limited the Brady/Jencks Act exculpatory material they would allow Gwinnett County prosecutors to provide Evans’ defense counsel. If this occurred, it was impermissible prosecutorial misconduct.


The Second Superseding Federal Indictment


On February 19, 2020 federal prosecutors in the USA v. Mitchell case filed a Second Superseding Indictment (Doc. 1158). This indictment listed Evans as the Number One defendant in the case. Patrick Caple, a/k/a “Zoe”, was listed as the Number Two defendant. Thirteen of the 30 defendants from the 2017 Indictment were also listed. The other 15 defendants had pleaded guilty by this time and were cooperating with prosecutors.


The 2020 Indictment was couched in language that reads like a press release. It presents a DOJ narrative of nationwide gang activity by “The Bloods” and NTG. Prosecutors say this narrative is supported by witness testimony, text messages, receipts from money transfers, and audiotapes derived from wiretaps. Furthermore, the number of counts was reduced from 22 to 20.


“Trial Attorney” Kristen S. Taylor replaced Rebecca Stanton in the DOJ oversight role.


The alleged Bloods and NTG criminal enterprise, racketeering conspiracies, manner and means of the conspiracies, overt acts and other substantive allegations in the 2020 Indictment are essentially the same as those presented in the 2017 federal Indictment. Prosecutors alleged that “The Bloods” and NTG members operated and participated in an ongoing, organized, gang related enterprise that was nationwide in scope, from 2012 through February 19, 2020.


Specifically, the 2020 Indictment establishes that the DOJ is actively pursuing a criminal case against “The Bloods”, the “United Blood Nation (UBN)”, NTG’s “Godfather”, and UBN’s national council in multiple federal jurisdictions. NTG’s “Godfather” has national leadership over all NTG lines and branches and authority over UBN lines as a member of the UBN national council, according to the Indictment. “Ultimate authority for gang decisions is still maintained in New York and the New York prison system…” states the Indictment.


Did Federal Prosecutors Hoodwink the RICO Defendants on Discovery Information and Brady/Jencks Act Materials


Based upon the language in the Indictment, DOJ has multiple criminal investigations ongoing into UBN and NTG gang-related activities. These investigations are developed by prosecution teams in several of the 94 federal judicial districts. These investigations are supervised by the DOJ in Washington.


Federal prosecutors in the Atlanta RICO case provided the defendants with the normal discovery information and Brady/Jencks Act materials – FBI 302 forms, witness statements, grand jury testimony of likely witnesses, audiotapes, text messages, photos of weapons, and other tangible items of evidence that were within the possession of the Atlanta-based prosecution team. It appears that federal prosecutors have not provided the Atlanta RICO defendants the full body of evidence gathered by all federal prosecution teams investigating “The Bloods”, UBN, NTG, its “Godfather”, and members of the UBN national council regarding the nationwide criminal enterprise referenced in the Indictment.


Pages 2-10 of the 2020 Indictment allege sweeping allegations with respect to “The Bloods” organizational structure, operational rules, membership induction and training, and nationwide gang activities. Paragraph 1 of the “Overt Acts” alleges that Alan Hall, a/k/a “Krook” or “Strong”, was a “High 020” in the NTG. A “High 020” is a “regional/state level leader with national authority over a specific (NTG) line” like the Atlanta RICO defendants. The Indictment places the Atlanta defendants in the middle of an ongoing national criminal enterprise purportedly controlled and operated by NTG’s “Godfather” and UBN’s national council. Yet, federal prosecutors reportedly limited the discovery documents and Brady/Jencks Act materials to the Georgia-based “Overt Acts”, as specified in the 2017 and 2020 Indictments.


Without access to all of the discovery information and Brady/Jencks Act materials in the possession and control of each and every DOJ prosecution team investigating “The Bloods”, UBN, NTG, its “Godfather”, and members of UBN’s national council, it is not possible for the Atlanta RICO defendants to know what information in those investigatory files is exculpatory in nature and actually benefits these defendants. Likewise, it is not possible for the defendants to know whether exculpatory material from all DOJ prosecution teams investigating “The Bloods” and its affiliate gangs was presented to the federal grand juries that approved the 2017 and 2020 Indictments, as mandated by the U.S. Attorneys Manual.


It further appears that the defendants who pleaded guilty in this RICO case did so without ever obtaining and/or reviewing the full body of discovery information and Brady/Jencks Act materials to which they were entitled.


The RICO Case Against Patrick Caple May Be Compromised by Brady/Jencks Act Materials


The Government’s case against Patrick Caple demonstrates why a defendant’s access to the full body of discovery information and Brady/Jencks Act material is critical. Prosecutors have portrayed Caple as a high-level NTG leader in the 2012 to 2020 racketeering enterprise. Caple has been in prison for the last 27 years. He has been in federal custody at the USP in Atlanta since his 2017 Indictment. Caple is accused of participating in a RICO conspiracy while he has been imprisoned. He has denied the RICO charges against him.


Prosecutors say the case against Caple is based upon a) witness testimony from defendants who pled guilty and several unindicted “co-conspirators”, b) PayPal records made by Asia Ballard on behalf of Caple, c) certain Western Union records, and d) audiotapes and text messages between Caple and Joseph Riley on November 4 and 5, 2016. In essence, the Government’s case is a reconstruction of past events by tainted witnesses who have a “dog in this fight”. The audiotapes and money transfer records are susceptible to multiple interpretations when additional contextual information is provided. Finally, the principal government witness –Jermaine Dane Lawrence – is dripping with self-professed crimes for which he has never been charged.


In contrast, internal law enforcement records compiled from 2012 to 2020 by the DOJ’s Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the Georgia Department of Corrections, directly and credibly refute the Indictment’s portrayal of Caple. Based upon GDC’s objectively determined risk assessment scores and its inmate custody level scores, Patrick Caple is and has been a model inmate from 2012 to 2020. The records were compiled by GDC employees who had no “dog in the fight”.


As opposed to the gangster portrayed in the Indictment, BOP’s records state that “Mr. Caple has been a major asset to the daily institutional operations at [the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta]”, where he has been since 2017. The DOJ records also state that “Mr. Caple wasted no time to stand out from the other inmates in a positive manner… Mr. Caple assists with maintaining a safe environment… Mr Caple is very respectful… and is a great example for other inmates to follow…”. Again, BOP personnel observed Caple’s conduct for three years of the alleged racketeering period.


These DOJ and GDC records would be deemed Brady/Jencks Act materials. Is Patrick Caple a high-ranking racketeer, or is he the model inmate who is a “major asset” to USP Atlanta’s operations, who “assists the prison with maintaining a safe environment”, and who is “very respectful"? BOP records say Caple is the model inmate. Were these GDC and BOP exculpatory records presented to the grand jury that returned the 2020 Indictment? Probably not. Are the GDC and BOP records the best and most credible evidence of Caple’s conduct during the 2012 to 2020 time period specified for the alleged RICO conspiracy? Yes.


Epilogue


It is probably too late for Gwinnett County prosecutors to correct their apparent blunder in Gordon Evans’ 2018 state court criminal case. Upon the filing of a timely motion to vacate his conviction based upon apparent prosecutorial misconduct, Evans would be entitled to a new trial in his case.


In the pending Atlanta RICO case, those defendants who have already pleaded guilty have waived their right to challenge the impermissibly limited production of discovery information and Brady/Jencks Act materials. Their only recourse would be a civil malpractice case against their defense counsel. This may be particularly true with respect to defense attorneys who advised their clients to plead guilty and who had no prior experience in judicially declared “Complex Criminal Cases”.


For defendants like Patrick Caple, who are proceeding to trial on the 2020 Indictment, their defense counsel are expected to aggressively pursue the acquisition of discovery information and Brady/Jencks Act materials from each and every DOJ prosecution team that has or is investigating “The Bloods”, UBN, NTG, its “Godfather”, and UBN’s national council, from 2012 to 2020, regardless as to which of the 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices are involved. They believe this is a fundamental due process right that should never be denied by prosecutors or fumbled by defense counsel.


The trial of the Atlanta RICO case is scheduled for March 2021. We will keep the public informed on major developments in the case.


[Editor’s Note: Mr. Watkins is a well-recognized investigative journalist who has decades of experience in trying complex civil and criminal cases. He was the “lead defense attorney” in the 2005 landmark $2.7 billion Sarbanes-Oxley accounting fraud case against former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. In 2003, Scrushy was indicted on 85 felony counts and faced 650 years in prison. By virtue of extensive pretrial motions and a six-month trial in 2005, Scrushy defeated all 85 counts. In July 2005, Fortune magazine featured Watkins in an article titled, “Donald Watkins: The Man Who Saved Richard Scrushy”. In May 2020, Netflix featured Watkins’ work in the Scrushy case in the documentary series, “Trial by Media; Episode #4, “King Richard”. ]




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