Guilty: 7 members of violent S.W. Phila. drug gang

Posted: December 07, 2012

Seven members of a violent Southwest Philadelphia drug gang that prosecutors say tyrannized the Bartram Village complex for most of the last decade were found guilty Thursday of crimes that could put most behind bars for the rest of their lives.

The seven - members of a gang known on the street as the "Harlem Boys," "Young Hit Men," or "54" - sat impassively as the U.S. District Court jury returned guilty verdicts on racketeering, drug conspiracy, and various other counts involving cocaine sales, assault, and guns.

The verdict sheet was so long and complex that District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel took nearly a half-hour to read it aloud after the jury of eight men and four women returned to the courtroom.

The jury deliberated for about 13 hours since Tuesday after testimony in a trial that began Sept. 24.

Of 73 crimes charged in the original 139-page indictment made public in October 2010, the jury returned guilty verdicts on 53, including the most serious racketeering charge against all seven. The jury also acquitted the seven men on 20 counts, most involving firearms.

Afterward, even defense lawyers praised the jurors for the conscientious way they parsed the charges and evidence.

"This is the best system in the world, and this jury actually restored my confidence," said lawyer Christopher G. Furlong, who represented Ramel Moten, 28, who prosecutors said was "lead gunman" for the Harlem Boys.

Moten, whom the jury also found guilty of 13 counts as a convicted felon possessing an arsenal of semiautomatic pistols, rifles, and shotguns, faces a mandatory minimum life term, according to prosecutors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Salvatore L. Astolfi, who handled the case with prosecutor Katayoun M. Copeland, also praised the verdict: "All of them are facing a maximum sentence of life in prison, and their mandatory minimum sentences vary from 125 years to 25 years in prison."

Stengel said the seven will be sentenced the week of March 4.

Astolfi said he believes the prosecution has improved life for the 1,600 residents of the Bartram Village Housing Development, a public housing complex bordered by Lindbergh Boulevard, 54th and 56th Streets, and the colonial-era Bartram's Garden.

"We have been told that ever since Oct. 6, 2010, things have been much different there, a much better quality of life," Astolfi added.

In addition to Moten, the others found guilty are: Reginald Stephens, 34; Merrell Hobbs, 24; Warren Stokes, 21; Khalil Allen, 34; Hikeem Torrence, 21; and Bryan Hill, 27.

All except Allen are described in the federal indictment as Harlem Boys drug distributors and gunmen; Allen was a drug distributor.

Although all likely face decades in prison, sentences are relative, like all things in life.

Stokes' lawyer, former federal prosecutor Stephen J. Britt, was congratulated by several defense lawyers because the jury acquitted Stokes of two counts of using and carrying a gun during a crime of violence.

Those two counts, Britt said afterward, reduced Stokes' mandatory minimum sentence from 40 to 45 years to 15 years.

During trial, witnesses described for the jurors how the Harlem Boys seized control of daily life in Bartram Village through a regime of threats and random violence - against even people who posed no threat to their cocaine trade.

Prosecutors said the gang used beatings, robberies, and other threats to cultivate their illicit business, and leased public housing units in the complex to stash drugs and guns.

Twenty suspects were arrested after the first indictment two years ago following a two-year probe by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Philadelphia police. More than half pleaded guilty, and many became prosecution witnesses during trial.

The jury also heard from seemingly random victims such as Mutrel Stuckey, who was shot in the back by Moten during a failed robbery attempt near the projects in 2009.

Like the rest, Moten grew up in or around the projects and started as a street dealer. He took control in 2007 after the first raids by federal agents.

The case against the group illustrated how federal authorities increasingly apply racketeering laws, once reserved for organized crime rings like the Mafia, to other criminal enterprises.



Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or @joeslobo on Twitter.

Inquirer staff writer John P. Martin contributed to this article.

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