- The Washington Times - Friday, January 29, 2010

BALTIMORE | The star of the notorious “Stop Snitching” DVDs that came to symbolize Baltimore’s culture of witness intimidation is facing up to 20 years in prison following his conviction on racketeering charges.

Ronnie Thomas, 36, of Baltimore was convicted Thursday in U.S. District Court along with Sherman Pride, 35, of Salisbury, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

Prosecutors said the two were members of the Tree Top Pirus gang, which was responsible for murder, drug trafficking and robbery, and face a maximum of 20 years for racketeering. Pride also faces life for drug conspiracy.

Thomas appeared prominently in the infamous 2004 video under his street name, Skinny Suge, telling those who cooperate with police that “I hope you catch AIDS in your mouth.” The video, in which gun-wielding men threaten violence against “snitches,” also included a brief appearance by Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony, a Baltimore native, who later apologized and said he did not endorse its content.

In addition to Thomas, eight other individuals connected with the “Stop Snitching” videos have been prosecuted in federal court, including Eric Bailey, who proclaimed “rat poison” the cure for cooperators in the original video and was later sentenced to 37 months for a gun crime, prosecutors said.

U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement released after the convictions that “racketeering cases often are time-consuming, but they make a dramatic contribution to public safety.”

The racketeering conviction required jurors to conclude the pair were active members of the gang and that the gang was organized to commit crimes. An April 23 sentencing date was set for each.

Attorneys presented closing arguments Wednesday and the jury returned its verdict Thursday evening.

During the trial, prosecutors played an excerpt from the sequel, “Stop Snitching 2,” in which Thomas identifies himself as a Blood and appears to be chambering a round in a handgun.

Thomas’ attorney, Michael D. Montemarano, said Wednesday that his client was merely playing a role.

“Why can’t Ronnie Thomas get up and portray himself as a Blood or anything else he wants to?” the attorney said, who characterizing “Stop Snitching” as “political commentary — nothing more, nothing less.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael C. Hanlon said the case was not about free speech rights, and cited wiretapped phone conversations in which Thomas and another gang member discussed retaliating against a store owner who was selling bootleg copies of “Stop Snitching 2.”

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