A 32-year-old local gang member pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court in Baltimore to conspiracy to conduct and participate in racketeering with the Tree Top Piru Bloods, according to the Maryland U.S. attorney's office.
Van Sneed of Baltimore asked a co-conspirator in the gang, which is also known as TTP, in January to find a buyer willing to pay for drugs, federal prosecutors said.
Sneed, prosecutors say, also shot a rival Crip gang member over a dispute Jan. 20 and was recorded in a series of telephone calls attempting to buy a firearm from a fellow TTP member's subordinate in February.
The case was the first federal guilty plea for a member of TTP, a gang that prosecutors say has been around since 1999 and was spawned at the Washington County Detention Center in Hagerstown.
Racketeering and conspiracy charges are pending against 25 other gang members stemming from an indictment released in February.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said racketeering charges involving gangs sometimes can persuade members to plead out, noting similarly prosecuted cases involving MS-13 members in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
"We expect we'll have additional gang-related prosecutions," Rosenstein said. "It's a priority for our violent crime program.
"We find the maximum impact comes on gangs rather than individuals."
Rosenstein said his office is in the process of hiring three prosecutors who will focus exclusively on gangs.
TTP is not necessarily among the city's largest or most profitable drug organizations, but it drew the interest of state and federal prosecutors because of the alleged viciousness of its members, who gained entry only by committing a violent crime first.
Prosecutors have said the gang is responsible for dealing drugs, beating up rivals, intimidating witnesses and killing five people.
According to court papers, the gang is linked directly to the Bloods street gang, which originated in Los Angeles in the early 1970s.
It first became known as Trey 8 and later the Insane Red Devils in a Maryland prison.
Over time, a group of female gang members formed a unit of TTP known as the Tree Top Pirettes. Five defendants in the indictment are women.
Two members - Tavon M. "Batman" Mouzone and Michael A. Banks - were convicted by a Baltimore County jury of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, a handgun offense and aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
The two are also charged in the federal racketeering indictment.
According to the conspiracy statement of facts as part of Sneed's plea, TTP members would meet regularly to discuss past acts of violence and other crimes committed against rival gang members. Prosecutors say TTP members would discuss police interactions with gang members and share with one another the identities of individuals who might be cooperating with police, proposing action against them.
Sneed faces a maximum of life in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 9.