- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Antwuan Ball is caught between two worlds.

One has him being praised by social workers for his civic activism; the other has him facing a rare death-penalty prosecution in the District on murder and racketeering charges.

Mr. Ball is accused of leading a violent street gang that sold hundreds of kilograms of crack cocaine in Southeast for more than a decade.

But he also has worked as a youth counselor, has helped oversee security at a troubled housing development and is even quoted in a national social services newsletter.

What’s more, a former White House official said she held him in such high regard as a civic activist that she regularly sought out his views.

Edgar S. Cahn, a professor at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia, said, “I just don’t recognize the Antwuan Ball in the indictment.”

Mr. Cahn met Mr. Ball in 2001 while doing volunteer work at the Capital Area Food Bank and said Mr. Ball delivered food to the elderly and renovated a computer lab for local children.

“I came to know him well enough, and I just felt this was a remarkably gutsy human being,” Mr. Cahn said.

Last month, the U.S. attorney’s office filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty for Mr. Ball and David Wilson, accused of being leaders of the Congress Park Crew — a gang that resorted to assault and homicide to protect its drug trade in Southeast.

Only two death-penalty cases have proceeded to trial in the District since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Capital punishment is banned in the District, except in federal crimes.

Michael Kimsey, executive director of the Kimsey Foundation, a nonprofit social services group based in the District, said he met Mr. Ball five years ago and worked with him on ventures in Southeast.

He helped Mr. Ball with startup plans for a consulting business called MANN Inc., an acronym for Making a Neighborhood Network, and a nonprofit called Changing Neighborhoods into Communities, he said.

“We saw it as taking a guy who had some troubles in the past who obviously was intelligent and who wanted to do something positive for the community,” Mr. Kimsey said. “We were trying to help him think of his future.”

Janie L. Jeffers met Mr. Ball when she was the executive deputy director of the federal D.C. Interagency Task Force in the Clinton administration in the late 1990s.

Miss Jeffers, now a professor at Howard University, said Mr. Ball attended monthly meetings at the White House conference center to discuss initiatives to improve Southeast neighborhoods.

“I’m still waiting to see the proof,” she said of the charges against Mr. Ball. “They want to make him out to be this charismatic ‘Scarface’ type of figure, saying all he did was all an act. But I saw no evidence of that.”

Mr. Cahn and Miss Jeffers said they met Mr. Ball through Harv Oostdyk, who was involved with a Texas-based nonprofit called the Step Foundation.

Mr. Oostdyk could not be reached for comment.

A 2002 article in the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy newsletter profiled Mr. Oostdyk’s work in the Congress Park Public Housing Complex in Southeast and said he spent 40 years building up troubled neighborhoods in Harlem and Dallas. The roundtable is a nonpartisan public policy group based in New York that studies government partnerships with faith-based groups.

“Harv gave us a way out,” Mr. Ball is quoted as saying in the article. “But I don’t need him to open up any more doors. He gave me the know-how I needed to make it on my own. I have a family. I have a bank account.”

The Step Foundation was hired to provide security services in the Congress Park complex. Organizers hired local residents for security details, including Mr. Ball, Mr. Wilson and several other gang members, prosecutors said.

The foundation has since merged with another ministry based in Dallas, said Lalla Shackelford, a former executive director who said she did not know Mr. Ball.

Miss Shackelford said the foundation’s general mission was to improve troubled communities by giving jobs to ex-convicts attempting to turn around their lives.

A spokesman for Edgewood Management Corp., which has run the Congress Park complex for much of the past decade, said Mr. Ball attended several community gatherings that involved the Step Foundation.

Federal prosecutors said Mr. Ball used his security position at the foundation to strengthen the Congress Park Crew’s hold on the drug trade.

“Mr. Ball and his co-conspirators used that organization … took over security of that complex in order to keep rival drug dealers from being able to distribute in Congress Park,” Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Jeffrey Beatrice told a judge at Mr. Ball’s bail hearing last year. “So they turned what may have been a well-intentioned organization into a means to further a conspiracy.”

A superseding indictment against Mr. Ball and more than a dozen other reputed Congress Park Crew members filed in May states that Mr. Ball “personally committed murders and assaults to further the purposes of the organization.”

Mr. Ball fatally shot Troy Lewis on Jan. 23, 1996, prosecutors said. Mr. Ball and Mr. Wilson also are accused of conspiring to kill members of a rival gang, the 10th Place/Trenton Place Crew.

In addition, prosecutors said, Mr. Ball used “intimidation and physical force” to keep witnesses to slayings silent.

Mr. Ball got his start in drug dealing in the 1980s as a lieutenant in the 1-5 Mob, authorities said.

His mother, Violet, was a cooperating witness in the prosecution of the 1-5 Mob, whose leader, Tommy Edelin, received life in prison without parole, though prosecutors had sought the death penalty.

Mr. Kimsey said Mr. Ball never talked in depth about his past.

“We never talked specifically about it,” he said. “He didn’t talk about anything illegal, but he pretty much admitted he had a troubled past.”

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