FORT PIERCE — A Fort Pierce man police say is a 13th Street gang member who was arrested on suspicion of racketeering during a lengthy investigation that snagged firearms, drugs and cash, avoided going on trial this week by accepting a plea deal.
Arrested in February 2011 during Operation Ceasefire along with four other alleged members of the 13th Street gang, Lloyd Cedric Coley, 23, of North 14th Street, on Friday entered pleas of no contest to charges of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering. His co-defendants also avoided trial by entering similar plea deals.
Assistant State Attorney Daryl Isenhower on Monday said he and Coley’s attorney were able to “find some middle ground” to hammer out terms of a plea bargain that canceled an expected two-week trial.
“The agreement was that he will get no credit for the time he’s already served,” Isenhower said, “and he would do an additional 30 months, and he’d do that in state prison.”
Coley — who authorities have suspected of being a gang member since at least age 15 — has been in custody at the St. Lucie County jail since May 2009, Isenhower said.
He was acquitted on charges of attempted murder, robbery and other charges that initially landed him behind bars in 2009, court records show.
He was arrested in this case while awaiting his earlier trial, Isenhower said. Coley’s plea deal, too, included pleading no contest to an outstanding charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
“Off the streets”
At the time of the arrests, Fort Pierce Police Chief Sean Baldwin said, “gang violence is destroying our community.”
Isenhower called getting all five defendants to plead no contest to both felony charges a “good resolution” for the state and for authorities who investigated the crimes.
“I think everybody involved from the law enforcement side of it are happy … that the first of these guys won’t be released until 2015,” he said. “We’ve got all five of these guys off the streets, and that’s what we were going for to begin with.”
Arrested with Coley were Fort Pierce residents Mequill Jackson, 24, of Avenue K; Delroy Bucknor, 22, of Avenue L; William Brown, 22, of South Eighth Street; and Jermaine Bradley, 22, of Southwest Malloy Street, Port St. Lucie.
The convictions, he said, sends a message that police and prosecutors “will use every tool at their disposal” to stop the kind of criminal activities associated with gangs and criminals who band together.
A 92-page arrest affidavit details suspected racketeering activities of the “13th Street Gang Criminal Enterprise,” and attributed to the group crimes including thefts, drug sales, armed robberies, acts of violence, witness intimidation and “numerous murders in the city of Fort Pierce.”
All five men were described as being 13th Street gang enforcers. An assault rifle taken into evidence in the investigation had 13th etched into the handle.
“The ‘13th Street’ gang is a criminal street gang as defined in Florida statute,” stated the affidavit written by Fort Pierce police Detective David Jones. “And is an ongoing organization that … has a common purpose of engaging in a course of conduct.”
Coley is accused of participating in the criminal enterprise since 2005 by engaging in several “incidents of racketeering conduct.”
That conduct includes a series of arrests, records show, including possession of cocaine and resisting an officer without violence; sale of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a place of worship, attempted tampering with evidence and obstructing a law enforcement officer.
Police have said the 13th Street Gang, which has about 100 members who are organized by seniority and chapters, operates in northwest Fort Pierce, generally between avenues H and Q and from north Seventh to 17th streets.
According to the reports, members are “well known to carry firearms for protection,” and for use against other local gangs.
“The majority of homicides have occurred outside of this geographical area, because members of the 13th Street gang will often attack rival gang members,” the affidavit stated. “The violent crimes that have occurred within the 13th Street gang area, or ‘turf,’ are usually committed against members of rival gangs who enter into the geographical area which 13th Street gang members have deemed to be their territory.”
The 13th Street Gang started in the 1990s, according to the affidavit. A tussle in 1998 between two boys at a miniature golf course on Okeechobee Road apparently triggered retaliatory gunfire between the 13th Street gang and another.
The next day, Aug. 31, 1998, Jacob St. Fleur, 17, of Parkland Court was killed by two gunshots to the chest as he stood outside a house on North 13th Street. After St. Fleur’s death “there were numerous shootings and homicides on both sides (gangs), ” the police report stated. For years, gang members honored the death of St. Fleur, who is buried in Riverview Memorial Park. A blue bandanna was placed on his gravestone.
According to arrest reports, the 13th Street gang designated blue as its color — to show its association with the nationwide Crips gang — and has official hand signals, tattoos and had an official Myspace page. Gang members have posted videos of themselves on YouTube, showing groups of young men and women flashing gang signs, bandannas and sometimes weapons, as rap music with lyrics singing about the gang’s lifestyle plays over the video.
Chief Baldwin has said in the northwest section of the city where 13th Street gang members claim their “turf,” investigating gang-related crimes often has been stymied by people’s fear of speaking up.
“If you testify against the ‘13th Street’ gang, you cannot go back to Fort Pierce,” a cooperating gang member told police. “Your family would not be safe …”
Determined to change that, Fort Pierce Police officers and agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, conducted a nearly two-year investigation that tracked the 13th Street gang’s alleged criminal racketeering activities occurring between 2005 and 2010.
Investigators compiled intelligence about the 13th Street gang using surveillance, search warrants, wire taps, controlled buys, court records, confidential informants and interviews with at least a dozen cooperating defendants.
Records show the investigation resulted in the arrest of 37 people who faced federal and state charges, the seizure of 595 grams of cocaine, 300 grams of crack cocaine, eight firearms, seven vehicles and $178,278.
Brown, meanwhile, arrested with Coley, is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 16 after he pleaded no contest in 2011 to racketeering charges.
In August, Bucknor and Bradley each received six-year prison terms for each count of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering, with the sentences to run concurrently. Both men were given credit for 968 days spent in the county jail.
Jackson was sentenced to five years in prison for both counts with the terms to run concurrently. He also was credited for 927 days in jail.