Final Defendant Sentenced in South Carolina’s Largest RICO Conspiracy

The 40th and final defendant prosecuted as part of the District of South Carolina’s case against the Insane Gangster Disciples (IGD), a branch of the nationwide Folk Nation gang, was sentenced today.

“The incarcerated leadership of the IGD maintained the gang’s lucrative drug enterprise by ordering murders and terrorizing neighborhoods throughout South Carolina,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “This vertical prosecution of 40 gang leaders, members, and associates has disrupted the criminal enterprise both inside and outside of prison. The case demonstrates the Department’s resolve to pursue and dismantle these organizations wherever they operate.”

According to court documents, the IGD was a sprawling criminal enterprise that included inmates within the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) who were gang leaders and used contraband cell phones to orchestrate murders, kidnappings, gun trafficking, and an international drug operation. James Robert Peterson, 35, of Gaffney; Edward Gary Akridge, 31, of Greenville; Matthew J. Ward, 39, of Lexington; and Juan Rodriguez, 43, of Woodruff, orchestrated the crimes from inside SCDC where they were inmates. IGD also included non-incarcerated members who committed crimes outside the prison system. In South Carolina, IGD was divided into three primary “sets,” each with its own leader.

“Contraband cellphones allowed gang leaders to perpetuate violence, traffic guns, and run an international drug operation from behind bars,” said U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs for the District of South Carolina. “Through a years-long, multi-agency partnership with state, local, and federal law enforcement, we have dismantled this criminal enterprise and held accountable both the incarcerated defendants and those who enabled them. We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute inmates who use contraband phones to continue their criminal conduct from prison.”

Since the initial indictment in this case, all charged defendants have pleaded guilty to conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering (VICAR) statute, or to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute narcotics (including methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl). Ten defendants were charged with either VICAR murder or kidnapping resulting in death – all of whom pleaded guilty as charged.

Nineteen of the 40 defendants in the case were sentenced on racketeering charges to the following prison terms:

  • Peterson, the leader of a gang set within IGD, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy and kidnapping resulting in death.
  • Ward, the leader of a gang set within IGD, was sentenced to 23 years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy.
  • Akridge, the leader of a gang set within IGD, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading to RICO conspiracy and VICAR murder.
  • Aaron Michael Carrion, 31, of Lexington, a member of and enforcer for IGD, was sentenced to 35 years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy and VICAR murder.
  • Aaron Corey Sprouse, 31, of Gaffney, a member of IGD, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy and VICAR kidnapping.
  • Arian Grace Jeane, 29, of Greenville, a member of IGD, was sentenced to over 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy and aiding and abetting VICAR murder.
  • Cynthia Rooks, 55, of Lexington, an associate of IGD, was sentenced to over 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy.
  • Lisa Marie Bolton, 35, of Dallas, North Carolina, an associate of IGD, was sentenced to over 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy.
  • Jonathan Eugene Merchant, 30 of Laurens, a member of IGD, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting VICAR murder.
  • Joshua Lee Scott Brown, 25, of Greenville, a member of IGD, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting VICAR murder.
  • Alex Blake Payne, 31, of Greenville, a member of IGD, was sentenced to over nine years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy.
  • Virginia Ruth Ryall, 46, of Gastonia, North Carolina, an associate of IGD, was sentenced to 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy.
  • Sally Williams Burgess, 40, of Greenville, an associate of IGD, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy.
  • Jennifer Sorgee, 39, of Easley, an associate of IGD, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy.
  • Heather Henderson Orrick, 36, of Greenville, an associate of IGD, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy.
  • Crystal Nicole Bright, 43, of Lexington, a member of IGD, was sentenced to over five years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy.
  • Lisa Marie Costello, 46, of Gaffney, an associate of IGD, was sentenced to over four years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy.
  • Amber Hoffman, 39, of Lexington, an associate of IGD, was sentenced to over five years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy.
  • Clifford Kyzer, 38, of Lexington, an associate of IGD, was sentenced to over 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy.

Twenty-one other defendants in this case have also been sentenced to charges stemming from the IGD’s far-reaching narcotics organization after pleading guilty to narcotics distribution conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute narcotics, and/or firearms offenses and related charges. The following are those defendants and their prison terms:

  • Rodriguez was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Samuel Dexter Judy, 31, of Lexington, was sentenced to 13 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Kelly Jordan, 37, of Williamston, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Richard Ford, 65, of Lexington, was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and related charges.
  • Brian Bruce, 51, of West Columbia, was sentenced to four years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Montana Barefoot, 28, of Lexington, was sentenced to five years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • John Johnson, 39, of Gaston, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Kelly Still, 46, of Windsor, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Benjamin Singleton, 49, of Lexington, was sentenced to over nine years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Kyla Mattoni, 41, of Lexington, was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, felon in possession of a firearm, and related charges.
  • Alexia Youngblood, 41, of Lexington, was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Rebecca Martinez, 36, of Lexington, was sentenced to five years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Mark Edward Slusher, 49, of Lexington, was sentenced to over seven years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Robert Figueroa, 46, of West Columbia, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Britney Shae Stephens, 35, of Anderson, was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Matthew Edward Clark, 44, of York, was sentenced to three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Catherine Amanda Ross, 31, of Gaffney, was sentenced to over 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting kidnapping.
  • Brandon Lee Phillips, 39, of Gaffney, was sentenced to time served after serving approximately four years in prison, followed by two years of supervised release, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Billy Wayne Ruppe, 58, of Gaffney, was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Windy Brooke George, 24, of Gaffney, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Tiffanie Brooks, 39, of Columbia, was sentenced to over three years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.

In connection with the investigation and prosecution of this case, law enforcement seized approximately 40 kilograms of methamphetamine, more than 130 firearms, and various quantities of heroin and fentanyl.

“ATF joined our local, state, and federal partners in a very dedicated and focused effort to make a long-lasting impact on the level of gun violence and gang activity in South Carolina,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Brian Mein of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “We brought some extremely dangerous individuals to justice and recovered over a hundred firearms from a criminal organization intent on harming our communities. Disrupting these major criminal networks will have a significant impact on public safety across the state.”

“This sentence marks the end of an era for a violent organization responsible for a multitude of criminal activities across South Carolina that negatively impacted the way of life for many communities,” said Special Agent in Charge Steve Jensen of the FBI Columbia Field Office. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners are committed to dismantling complex criminal enterprises and ensuring that our communities are safe and secure.”

The case is the result of a multi-agency effort to dismantle the IGD by the ATF, FBI, Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, Lexington County Multi-Agency Narcotics Enforcement Team SCDC, Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, Laurens County Sheriff’s Office, and Richland County Sheriff’s Department. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office, Eighth Circuit Solicitor’s Office, Eleventh Circuit Solicitor’s Office, and Thirteenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office provided valuable assistance.

Trial Attorney Rebecca Dunnan and Principal Deputy Kim S. Dammers of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Holloway for the District of South Carolina prosecuted the case. Attorneys Brandon B. Hinton, formerly of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Lisa K. Man, formerly of the Organized Crime and Gang Section, also assisted with the case.

This case was prosecuted as part of the joint federal, state, and local Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), the centerpiece of the Justice Department’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

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