A federal prosecutor and an FBI agent say the popular Baltimore rapper known as YGG Tay offered $20,000 for the murder of a police informant who was gunned down last June.
The informant, Guy Coffey, 28, was supplying information on a West Baltimore street gang of alleged hit men and heroin dealers known as “Trained To Go.”
A trial for eight men accused of running the violent gang began this week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
In the days preceding the trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys had argued whether Coffey’s grand jury testimony should be admitted as evidence. During these arguments, the rapper, whose real name is Tay Harrison, was identified as offering the bounty on Coffey, a key witness in the case.
[ Who is YGG Tay? Popular Baltimore rapper's name has come up in recent trial, though he hasn't been charged ]
Harrison has not been charged in Coffey’s death.
He told The Baltimore Sun he was blindsided by the accusation.
“That is completely false,” he said Tuesday. “I’ve never even seen this guy before. I’ve never had a conversation about this guy. I don’t know how I’m connected to this guy. They have no evidence, so they shouldn’t be saying that to no judge.”
The U.S. attorney’s office in Baltimore did not respond to questions.
Federal prosecutors had called Detective Mark Neptune, a joint FBI agent and city police detective, to testify last week before U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake, who is presiding over the “Trained To Go” trial.
Neptune said he listened to a phone call between another police informant and a South Baltimore drug dealer, and the drug dealer said the rapper had offered money for Coffey’s death.
“It essentially places an open contract, like a bounty,” Neptune told the court last week. “You’ve now essentially sent out this message in the city: Hey, it’s $20,000 to whoever can find this guy and kill him. And then it’s a race.”
Harrison dismissed the allegation as mere rumor.
“They’re going off something they heard on the street? Come on,” he said. “That just makes it even worse. … I don’t want people out there thinking I’m into this stuff. They’re trying to damage my name. I got record labels trying to sign me.”
Prosecutors say Harrison is a member of “Young Go Getters,” a street crew that partnered with “Trained To Go.” As YGG Tay, he has become one of Baltimore’s most popular rappers. His music videos have been watched millions of times online.
Coffey’s killing underscores deep concerns for the safety of the federal witnesses expected to testify in the five-week trial. During opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors said at least six police informants would tell of witnessing drug deals and murders by the eight men accused of running “Trained To Go.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Gardner told jurors the gang built a fearsome reputation.
“They grew that brand through drugs, blood and bullets,” he said.
The gang began in Sandtown-Winchester about eight years ago with brothers Montana Barronette and Terrell Sivells, Gardner told the jury. He said the teenagers climbed from street level drug dealers to lead a powerful crew of heroin dealers and guns for hire.
The brothers and six other men are on trial for racketeering and drug trafficking. Prosecutors say members of “Trained To Go” killed 10 people between 2010 and 2016.
One man, Brandon Bazemore, has pleaded guilty; another, Roger “Milk” Taylor remains on the loose.
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A federal wiretap investigation into the gang began in January 2016. Prosecutors said they would present surveillance video of drug dealers and 250 recorded phone calls. They say the eight men drove off rival drug dealers and silenced witnesses with threats and murders.
The eight defendants face life in prison.
Their defense attorneys sought to undermine the credibility of the government witnesses, who were promised money and lenient prison sentences for their testimony.
“Did these people hear what they said they heard? Did they see what they said they saw? Or are they just repeating what they heard on the street?” Alan Bussard, the attorney for Barronette, asked the jury.
Joseph Balter, defense attorney for Sivells, urged jurors to carefully consider the witnesses’ words.
“That’s going to be the crux of the case … who can be believed and who can’t,” he said. “There are all these inducements that may be affecting the truthfulness and reliability of what they are saying.”
Meanwhile, tensions remain high as the trial proceeds. Judge Blake offered a sharp rebuke Tuesday morning after two young women began fighting in the gallery.