Gang member jailed

The Baltimore Sun

The morning before Kevin Gary was supposed to appear on a radio program to talk about thwarting violence in Baltimore, he was arrested and charged with gang conspiracy, symbolizing in a single moment the contradiction he was used to living.

He bought turkeys for the poor at Christmastime, yet he was also a member of a local Bloods gang called Tree Top Piru, known for his signature red contact lenses and for dealing drugs, according to a statement of facts he signed as part of his January guilty plea agreement.

On Friday, during an emotionally charged hearing, he was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.

Gary's family and friends asked to be heard, passing a microphone through the courtroom, outlining his acts of kindness. They knew Gary as the young man who took neighborhood children to the swimming pool and volunteered at the Rose Street Community Center. They didn't know the "monster" portrayed in court.

"They see past the bandanna, past the red contacts ... past all of that. They just see me," Gary, 27, said to the judge. "[The prosecutor] spilled everything I did wrong, so my family spilled everything I did right."

Gary was once held up as the face of gang life in Maryland, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason M. Weinstein said, referring to a 2007 Baltimore Sun story in which Gary said gangs are unfairly portrayed and that they give youth structure and uplift the community.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Weinstein said. "If [kids] follow in those footsteps, those footsteps will lead right here."

In his January plea agreement, Gary admitted witness intimidation, ordering gang members to rob drug dealers and unsuccessfully arranging a murder. But that's not the Gary his supporters described.

Clayton Guyton, director of the Rose Street Community Center, said Gary was someone who cared deeply about his neighborhood and worked to make it a safer place. He bought school supplies for children and spoke to church youth groups, his mother said. He was "just a kid who made a mistake," his father said.

They saw him as a victim of the system, someone who never had a chance.

"The anger is understandable because this is someone they love, and he's getting ready to go to jail for a long time," said U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles.

But Gary has a duty to strike down their belief that "their government is railroading them," the judge added. "Mr. Gary has some responsibility to them to [help] them understand the truth."

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