- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

BALTIMORE (AP) — The gang called itself the TPP Bloods, the TTP standing for Tree Top Pirus — a reference to a group of streets in Compton, Calif., named after trees. But the organization, federal prosecutors said, originated in Maryland, not California, and in less than 10 years it became one of the most violent in the state.

A sweeping indictment against 23 men and five women — all thought to be members of TTP Bloods — was unsealed yesterday in federal court in Baltimore. Prosecutors charged 26 of them with racketeering conspiracy under a law designed to target organized crime.

They are accused of committing five killings in the past 2½ years, along with crimes including robberies, kidnappings, drug trafficking and threatening and intimidating witnesses.

“This is an organization that is alleged to have had a hierarchy, a structure, leadership, goals and rules that govern the conduct of the gang members,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said, adding that the racketeering charges allow prosecutors to hold gang members responsible for all of the gang’s activities.

Steve L. Willock, 28, is accused of leading the gang, which formed in 1999 in the Washington County Detention Center in Hagerstown. According to court documents, Willock was sentenced to eight years in 1999 for dealing drugs and, after his release in 2003, was caught dealing again and sentenced to 18 years.

For most of the gang’s existence, Willock directed its activities from prison, communicating with members largely through the mail, the indictment says. He also wrote a letter to a TTP leader in Compton that said, in part, “We have about 3-4 territories in Baltimore, Md (BodyMore) and we have blocks in different counties in Md, also territories in the Eastern Shore.”

Another man indicted is Ronnie Thomas, 33, who is featured prominently in the infamous “Stop Snitching” video under his street name, Skinny Suge. The crude video became emblematic of Baltimore’s culture of witness intimidation.

According to the indictment, Thomas called another gang member, Kevin Gary, 26, of Baltimore, on Feb. 14 and discussed retaliating against a store owner who refused to sell the sequel, “Stop Snitching 2.”

Eight of those indicted — Gary; Thomas; Sean Frazier, 24, of Baltimore; Orlando Gilyard, 21, of Baltimore County; Diane Kline, 30, of Hagerstown; Sherry Brockington, 23, of Baltimore; Emmanuel Fitzgerald, 33, of Baltimore; and Keon Williams, 26, of Baltimore — were arrested yesterday morning during raids by more than 100 law-enforcement officers.

Representatives of the federal public defender’s office said the office was not representing any of those eight defendants.

Fourteen defendants named in the indictment were already in custody for other crimes, while six remain at large.

The gang’s female members called themselves the “Tree Top Pirettes,” and Mr. Rosenstein said women played an unusually prominent role in the conspiracy. Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, however, said her office was seeing an increase in the number of women involved in drug dealing and gun crime.

“It’s a lifestyle, and there are a lot of things going on with women when it comes to criminal enterprise,” Miss Jessamy said. “The stronger gangs get … you’re going to be seeing gang activity across the board by females.”

One of the indicted women, Michelle L. Hebron, 23, is awaiting trial on murder charges in the October fatal shooting of David L. Moore in Hagerstown. She also is accused in the indictment of shooting a TTP member who she thought was cooperating with police.

Eric A. Reed, Miss Hebron’s public defender in the murder case, said he was preparing for trial on the state charges and had not seen the federal indictment.

Each of the 21 defendants charged with drug trafficking conspiracy faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, and each of the 26 charged with racketeering conspiracy faces a maximum of 20 years.

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