- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—NORFOLK — Christopher M. Smith was set to stand trial next week on charges he led a large and violent street gang the past two years in Portsmouth while waging war with a rival drug distribution organization.

Now he is expected to plead guilty late this afternoon. Details of the plea agreement won’t be available until after 4 p.m.

In most cases like this one, a defendant would have spent the preceding weeks and month calling friends and family to discuss his case and life outside of jail.

But not in this one.

Officials with the Western Tidewater Regional Jail took the unusual step earlier this year to cut off Smith’s phone privileges amid allegations he was ordering hits from jail.

“The security interest here is obvious: among other things, defendant was using the prison phones to disseminate threats to perceived government cooperators held in local jails,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph E. DePadilla wrote in court documents.

Defense attorney Andrew Sacks said in his own court filings that his client did not threaten anyone and argued that the restrictions were “extreme” and rendered him “unable to communicate with his family and loved ones.” He asked the court to reinstate his client’s phone privileges, but withdrew the request last week.

No charges have been filed against Smith in connection with the alleged threats.

According to court documents, Smith, 31, is the leader — or “High” — of the Imperial Gangster Bloods. The gang, which was formed in late 2013 or early 2014, is a subset of United Blood Nation.

Prosecutors allege the organization imported kilogram quantities of heroin from New York to Hampton Roads on multiple occasions. They also said he waged a short war last summer with a rival organization run by brothers Jeremy and Jason Saunders of Portsmouth.

Jeremy Saunders was shot on one occasion in August, but survived. Five days later, Smith and some fellow gang members were involved in a running gun battle with the Saunderses on Appomattox Avenue, documents said.

At one point, Smith’s men were armed with an M-16 and AK-47, documents said.

The Saunders brothers were convicted earlier this year on various drug and gun charges. Jeremy Saunders pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. His brother was found guilty at trial and is awaiting sentencing.

Before his arrest in September, Smith — who is also known as “Killa” — bragged in text messages that his position within the gang allowed him to order acts of violence inside area jails, documents said.

After his incarceration, Smith maintained contact with gang members and affiliates using the jail’s phone system, documents said.

DePadilla claimed Smith attempted to hide those conversations from investigators by using the personal PIN numbers of other inmates.

DePadilla said that Smith called another gang member in February after one of his lieutenants pleaded guilty, and that Smith allegedly wanted to “threaten or eliminate” the co-defendant. DePadilla said Smith spoke in code, referring to the co-defendant by the neighborhood he lived in before his arrest.

“Look, um, Oak Leaf Park, right?” Smith said, according to a transcript of the conversation. “Oak Leaf Park … lying on me and …, bro.”

“Say no more, man,” the other person responded.

In another call to a gang affiliate, Smith asked the names of possible government witnesses be circulated in area jails, documents said.

DePadilla said Smith also had gang members and affiliates not in jail monitor the federal court system’s electronic filing system “to attempt to identify cooperators.”

DePadilla and FBI Special Agent Mark Gripka met with Smith and his attorney March 25 to discuss the case and the defendant’s use of the jail’s phone system, documents said. They provided Sacks with recordings of some of Smith’s calls and asked Smith to agree to restrict his telephone use to his attorney.

Smith refused, prompting DePadilla and Gripka to contact the U.S. Marshals Service. In turn, the marshals asked the jail to restrict his phone privileges to only calls with his attorney.

The privileges were restricted May 5, but DePadilla said Smith’s friends and family could still visit him in jail. He also was able to communicate with people by mail.

Smith is charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics, two counts of possession with intent to distribute drugs and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

This is a developing story. Check pilotonline.com throughout the day for updates.

Scott Daugherty, 757-446-2343, [email protected]


(c)2015 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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