SAN FRANCISCO – 14 December – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – United States Attorney Kevin V. Ryan announced that Douglas Stepney, 33, and Kim Ellis, 31 – the final two defendants in a four-year prosecution that has netted 35 convictions of members and associates of the “Big Block” gang in San Francisco – pleaded guilty in United States District Court late yesterday.
This prosecution is the result of a five-year-long investigation by the FBI and the San Francisco Police Department, with assistance from the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives, and the Hayward Police Department. The FBI’s investigation included court-authorized wiretaps in 2001.
In pleading guilty, Stepney and Ellis acknowledged Big Block’s role in a total of five drug-related shootings. Stepney, who admitted being the leader of the “Big Block” criminal street gang in the Bayview/Hunters Point area of San Francisco, pleaded guilty for his role in a drive-by shooting in an attempt to kill a rival gang member on March 23, 2001. Stepney also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to use and carry firearms in connection with a drug conspiracy, and conspiracy to possess over 5 kilograms of cocaine in order to manufacture cocaine base (crack cocaine) and to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. Kim Ellis pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess over 5 kilograms of cocaine in order to manufacture crack cocaine, and to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine.
U.S. Attorney Kevin V. Ryan stated, “It is unacceptable for any of our citizens or communities to live in fear and actual danger of physical harm by violent street gangs. This investigation and prosecution demonstrates that, with the help of our federal and local law enforcement partners, we are firmly committed to a safe environment for all – no matter how long it takes. Long-term prison sentences may very well await those who would inflict fear and violence on our citizenry.”
The criminal conduct the defendants pleaded guilty to occurred between September 1999 and August 2001. In the plea agreements, Defendant Stepney agreed to a sentence of 23 years in prison, and defendant Ellis agreed to a sentence of 20 years in prison, Both defendants face at least 10 years of supervised release following release from prison. These sentences are subject to approval by the court. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 27, 2006, before Judge Marilyn Hall Patel in San Francisco.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Joe Ford said, “The Big Block investigation began in 2000 and is one of many on-going investigations to combat violence in our streets. It is important to disrupt gang activity at all levels, to include leadership as well as those committing the acts of violence. Unless leaders are arrested and prosecuted, the gang will continue to prosper, no matter how many rank and file members are taken off the streets.”
In pleading guilty, Stepney, of San Francisco, admitted that as the leader of the criminal street gang Big Block, he participated in a drive-by shooting with an assault rifle and a machine gun in March 2001. As a result of this shooting, the girlfriend of a rival gang member, who was driving the vehicle in which a minor child was a passenger, sustained serious injury; the child was unharmed. Stepney also acknowledged that he acquired and paid for assault rifles used by Big Block members for use in two other drive-by shootings. Stepney admitted that he and other Big Block members sold crack cocaine, and that Big Block members and associates used violence, intimidation and armed assaults against members of rival gangs, such as the Westmob gang in San Francisco, to protect Big Block’s drug turf and drug profits.
San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong stated, “The San Francisco Police Department is extremely grateful for all the help our partners in law enforcement have provided that has resulted in these convictions. We look forward to continued cooperation with them to help stem the violence in our communities.”
According to the plea agreement, Ellis, of San Francisco, admitted that in furtherance of the conspiracy to manufacture and distribute crack cocaine, Big Block gang members performed a drive-by shooting and shot at a rival gang member at a concert in San Francisco. Each defendant admitted that the gang’s drug conspiracy involved over 50 kilograms of cocaine powder and more than 500 grams of cocaine base.
The original 47-count indictment against Stepney was returned on September 13, 2001, and charged a total of 17 people with narcotics transactions, firearm-related charges, and conspiracy. Other individuals, including defendant Kim Ellis, were added through superceding indictments and a separate indictment as the investigation progressed.
Big Block is a street gang which operated in the Harbor Road area of the Bay View/Hunters Point district in San Francisco. Big Block was involved in street sales of narcotics (principally crack cocaine) and in various crimes of violence, including shootings with semi-automatic and automatic weapons, aimed mostly at a rival street gang known as Westmob.
The maximum statutory penalty for each count in violation of conspiracy to traffic 50 grams or more of cocaine base, in violation of 21 United States Code, Section 846, for a defendant with a prior felony drug conviction is up to life in prison, a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years, a criminal fine of $8 million, and at least 10 years of supervised release. The maximum statutory penalty for a violation of conspiracy to use, possess or carry firearms during and in relation to a drug conspiracy, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 924(o), where machine guns are involved, is up to life in prison, a criminal fine of $250,000, and five years of supervised release. The maximum statutory penalty for a violation of drive-by shooting, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 36, is 25 years in prison, a criminal fine of $250,000, and five years of supervised release. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
Andrew M. Scoble, Jonathan Schmidt and George L. Bevan Jr. are the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who have prosecuted this case with the assistance of Kim Hopkins, Barbara Phillips, Diana Wong, Orisme Carminati, Patty Lau, Cherell Hallett, Mae Chu, Dustin Bourgeois, Katie Glynn, as well as Machaela Hoctor of the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. The prosecution is the result of a five-year investigation by the FBI and the San Francisco Police Department, with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.