Six alleged members of an east side St. Paul gang have been charged with conspiring to illegally acquire firearms used in a yearslong turf war waged equally on the city’s streets and in online rap videos.
According to an indictment unsealed Thursday, social media has been an integral part of the HAM Crazy gang’s blood feud with the rival Hit Squad, which dates at least to January 2014 and has claimed lives on both sides of the conflict.
YouTube rap videos that appear to show HAM Crazy members pointing guns at the camera as they threaten their rivals have become a key piece of evidence in the federal conspiracy case.
The six alleged HAM Crazy members indicted are Marvell Voshon Jefferson, aka “Vo” or “Lil Vo”; Carmelo Manuel Marrero, aka “Melo” or “Mello”; Casey Jemar Davis, aka “K Chop”; Shelby Delane Ashford Jr., aka “Two Times”; Phillip Dwayne Jackson, aka “Go” or “Kid Go,” and Nakia Marquire Martin, aka “Freaky” or “Freaky Nick.”
Martin is 24 and the other five defendants are 23. All but Marrero, a fugitive, have since appeared in federal court for arraignment. Attorneys listed as representing the defendants could not immediately be reached late Thursday.
In a statement announcing the indictment, Acting U.S. Attorney Gregory Brooker called the case the product of “aggressive action” by federal and local law enforcement aimed at curbing gun violence in St. Paul. “This alarming uptick in gang activity and gun violence will not be tolerated in our cities and communities,” Brooker said.
A federal grand jury indictment described the HAM Crazy gang’s main purpose as preserving and protecting “territory, power, status and reputation through the use of violence and intimidation” against rival gangs.
Although the dispute has led to multiple killings, murder charges can be hard to prove, so federal prosecutors in recent years have successfully employed the tactic of charging gun possession conspiracies by gang members who are prohibited from owning weapons because of past convictions. All six defendants charged this month have such convictions.
According to the charges, the HAM Crazy members plotted to possess at least nine firearms — either pistols or revolvers — which they allegedly gathered through thefts, trades and cash exchanges.
Rapping threats and insults
The HAM Crazy-Hit Squad conflict has gone beyond street battles, with gang associates taking to social media to threaten rivals, recount past gun battles, and flash firearms, gang signs and money in self-published rap videos. While the indictment places the defendants “in the immediate vicinity” of a shots-fired call as they drove around St. Paul, the rap videos factor heavily among the “overt acts” alleged as part of the conspiracy.
In one video posted to YouTube in September 2014, five of the defendants appear in an alley near a fellow HAM Crazy member’s home. According to the indictment, the video shows some members pointing firearms at the camera and passing the weapons among one another.
A March 2015 video was filmed in part at the El Rio Vista Rec Center, an area allegedly claimed as Hit Squad territory. Martin points a gun at the camera while Jefferson and Jackson rap insults at rival gang members, including references to at least three people killed by a HAM Crazy member and “East side affiliates,” according to the charges.
“There are plenty of ways to settle disagreements between groups, but gun violence is not a method we will allow,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Kirk Howard of the St. Paul Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The ATF investigated the case alongside St. Paul police, whose chief, Todd Axtell, on Thursday promised further collaboration to “rigorously pursue gun offenders whose crimes tear at the fabric of our community.”