Six suspected Charlotte gang members now face a possible death penalty in the October killings of a business couple to block testimony against United Blood Nation members at a future trial.
Four of those charged in connection with the murders of Doug and Debbie London were already in custody. Two more suspects were arrested Wednesday after an early morning FBI raid on the Charlotte cell of UBN, an East Coast gang with strong criminal ties across the region.
In all, seven UBN members were taken into custody Wednesday on a variety of charges.
Two have been implicated in a second murder – the August 2013 killing in Charlotte of Kwamne Clyburn, whom authorities say was killed by UBN after trying to pass himself off as a member of the gang. One of the two, Jamell Cureton, is accused by federal authorities of ordering the gang hit on the Londons from behind bars.
The Londons’ deaths remain among the region’s most shocking killings in recent years. Authorities say they were gunned down after answering the door of their Lake Wylie, S.C., home to keep Doug London from testifying against the UBN members who tried to rob his store last May.
According to a 51-page indictment outlining the new charges:
▪ Two of those now charged with the Londons’ deaths, Jamell Cureton and David Lee Fudge, also took part in the attempted robbery of the couple’s mattress company on South Boulevard. Cureton, who was shot and wounded by Doug London during the incident, was in the Mecklenburg County Jail at the time of the killings. Authorities now say he ordered and planned the hit. Fudge, who has been described in court documents as a high-ranking UBN leader, was also charged with murder Wednesday in connection with the couple’s deaths.
▪ Two other suspected UBN members, Randall Hankins and Rahkeem McDonald, also have been charged with two counts of murder in aid of racketeering stemming from the Lake Wylie killings.
▪ Malcolm Hartley and Brianna Johnson, accused of carrying out the killings, were both formally charged by federal authorities with two counts of murder in aid of racketeering. They already face murder charges in York County, S.C., where they remained in jail.
▪ Cureton and Ahkeem McDonald also face murder and other federal charges in Clyburn’s killing. The charge also carries a possible death penalty.
Under the new federal charges, all seven face the death penalty.
Nana Adoma and four other gang members face conspiracy and other charges in connection with the deaths of the Londons and Clyburn. They are:
▪ Daquan “Day Day” Everett.
▪ Centrilla “CeCe” Leach.
▪ Ibn “IB” Kornegay.
▪ Nehemijel “Mijel” Houston.
The charges carry a maximum penalty of life without parole.
According to the indictment, Cureton, who went by the gang names “Murda Mel” and “Assassin,” ordered and planned the Londons’ killing last October from his cell in the Mecklenburg County Jail.
Gang members made at least one trip to the couple’s South Boulevard store to “intimidate or kill them” in order to block their testimony at the upcoming robbery trial. It’s not clear whether the Londons were present when the gang members showed up at their store in October.
By Oct. 7, Cureton had given the go-ahead for the killings, the indictment says, and he sent two letters to Hartley ordering that the hit be made.
Gang members met by phone on Oct. 15 to discuss the upcoming killings with the final planning meeting taking place on Oct. 23, the indictment says. Later that night, the Londons were killed as they answered the door of their lakeside home. Afteward, Hartley and Johnson met with other gang members to celebrate the couple’s deaths, the indictment says.
Wednesday’s arrests follow instances of brazen gang violence in the Carolinas, including the kidnapping of the father of a Raleigh-area prosecutor last spring.
Earlier this year, two judges and the Charlotte city attorney were placed under protective watch after their photos were found in Cureton’s cell during a January raid by the FBI. One of the judges, U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney, later recused himself from the robbery case against Cureton, Fudge and Nana Adoma.
Adoma is Cureton’s brother. Authorities say he served as a lookout during the robbery and was not charged Wednesday in connection with the Londons’ deaths.
Over the past five years, Whitney has sent dozens of UBN members, including a top national leader, to prison on convictions ranging from racketeering, drug trafficking, firearms violations and conspiracy to commit murder.
According to court and government documents, UBN runs a sprawling East Coast criminal organization that operates in Charlotte and surrounding counties. Over the past five years, area UBN members have been the targets of several major crackdowns by the FBI and local law enforcement. Dozens have been sent to prison.
A national gang expert said UBN and other gangs have begun making more blatant threats against judges, prosecutors, police and trial witnesses. Last year, an imprisoned UBN leader arranged the kidnapping of the father of a Wake County prosecutor who had helped convict him.
UBN is the East Coast arm of the older and better-known Bloods, which started in California. UBN was founded in 1993 by two inmates in New York’s Rikers Island prison to protect African-American inmates from established Latino gangs.
Federal documents say the gang spread south through the prison system and through the drug and gun trade, taking root in the Southeast around the turn of the century. According to a Justice Department profile of the gang, North Carolina has long been a key distribution center for UBN cocaine and marijuana shipments out of New York.
The gang is characterized by its hierarchical organization, in which a national council retains authority over dozens of local “cells.” In the Charlotte area, the UBN cell is known as “G-Shine,” which first organized in New York, court documents show.
Experts say UBN is also set apart by the level of violence members appear willing to use, even compared with other gangs.
George Knox, executive director of the National Gang Crime Research Center in Chicago, said law enforcement groups underestimated UBN and its affiliates for years.
“Now we know what they’re capable of,” he said, adding that the protection ordered for the three officials in Charlotte was the “prudent” thing to do, given that UBN and other gangs have begun acting with “greater boldness, greater audacity” in their threats against police and court officials.
Friends and family of the Londons say they were threatened by relatives of the robbery suspects during at least one pretrial hearing.
Operating behind bars
Cureton’s attorney, Chiege Okwara, has said previously that her client could not have killed the Londons because he was in jail at the time of their deaths. Court records, however, indicate that UBN’s top leaders routinely conduct gang business while behind bars.
▪ Documents filed in connection with the 2012 UBN indictments in Charlotte indicate that both the gang’s North Carolina leader and one of its national council members in New York gave orders and helped direct day-to-day operations for their organizations while in prison.
“What’s even more compelling to this court is that you still were able to perform your duties as the leader of G-Shine ... while you were in prison,” Whitney told Daryl “OG Powerful” Wilkinson last August, according to court transcripts.
“It is troubling for this court that incarceration did not stop you.”
Wilkinson was serving a prison sentence in New York for murder when he was indicted on racketeering charges in Charlotte. Whitney gave him four years in federal prison, which will begin when Wilkinson completes his murder term.
▪ In 2013, a federal jury in Charlotte convicted four UBN members, who were state inmates at the time, of plotting to kill another prisoner and discussing assaults on the family members of other inmates who had disrespected them. Prosecutors say the four also used smuggled cellphones to conduct other gang business outside the prison.
▪ An imprisoned UBN leader also was at the center of one of the boldest and most frightening gang-related crimes of 2014. Prosecutors say gang leader Kelvin Melton ordered and micromanaged the kidnapping of the father of the Wake County assistant district attorney who had sent him to prison in 2012. The father was found and freed, but the case put prosecutors around the country on guard for potential threats to themselves and their loved ones.
Melton, who was serving a life sentence in Polk Correctional Institution in Butner at the time, used an illegal cellphone to hire the kidnappers, then sent more than 100 texts to convey orders as the kidnapping unfolded.
In another case, the FBI warned police chiefs around the state that UBN members might be targeting police officers after a gang member, who had wounded a sheriff’s deputy three days before, was shot to death outside Wilmington in October 2013. UBN members, an FBI memo said, were “committed to engage in shootings” in Wilmington.
According to officials and court documents, UBN has become a prominent part of many North Carolina prisons. Those sources say members control the inmate sale of contraband, organize attacks on rival gangs and, in a surprising number of cases, operate with the cooperation of prison guards.
In 2013, while testifying at the trial of four UBN defendants arrested in the 2012 sweep of gang operations in Charlotte and Gastonia, a prison captain from the state’s Bertie Correctional Institution told Whitney that gang members routinely compromised the staff at the high-security prison.
“Any gang in particular?” Demetrius Clark was asked, according to a transcript of his testimony.
“I would say some of them were with the UBN,” Clark said. “A lot of it was ... they put pressure on them.”
“What kind of pressure?” an assistant U.S. attorney asked.
“Fear,” Clark replied.