A Los Angeles street gang member who faces up to 45 years in prison has followed a Seattle judge's advice and written an open letter warning gang members to stay out of interstate cocaine trafficking.
"Crip members, wake up and learn from my experience (not the hard way!) that coming to Seattle to sell cocaine isn't wise at all. It's not just wrong, but it's dumb," Derrick Lamar (Vamp) Hargress, 26, states in a letter to the editor of The Times.
Hargress, a member of the Nine-Deuce Hoover Crips, pleaded guilty in June to selling rock cocaine near a Seattle high school and using a firearm in Oklahoma City to further his drug-trafficking business.
At the time, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour told Hargress that if he informed other gang members that "if they're going to get involved in this, this (Seattle) is not the place to do it," then he would take it into account when he sentences Hargress on Friday.
Hargress' attorney, James L. Vonasch, said the letter was sent to The Times in hopes that it would be published "as a public service." A copy of the typed letter was sent to Coughenour.
Vonasch, in a telephone interview Tuesday, termed the letter "sincere" and said that Hargress, who is in Washington's Kent Corrections Facility, "deeply regrets what he did and he hopes by publicizing this he can discourage others."
"I'm hoping the judge will think more in terms of 10 years, but it's up to the judge," the attorney said.
Federal prosecutors, however, are not persuaded. In an affidavit to Coughenour in support of a 25-year sentence, prosecutors said that as recently as May, Hargress, according to an unidentified member of his family, was still running his drug business from jail.
The family member said Hargress, before entering his guilty plea in June, also had told family members that "he expected he'd have to do around six years on the current indictment after which he would be released and continue his drug operation," according to the affidavit.
Assistant U.S. Atty. David E. Wilson, contacted by phone in Seattle on Tuesday, would not directly comment on Hargress' letter. But he said that Hargress still deserves 25 years because "in our view, he's the worst of the 26 people we've indicted here (in Seattle) in Los Angeles gang cases."
Seattle authorities, like those in dozens of Western and Midwestern cities, have voiced alarm in the last year about hundreds of Los Angeles-based Crips and Bloods gang members moving into their communities, peddling rock cocaine and engaging in violence.
In Seattle, authorities are prosecuting the gang members under federal drug-trafficking laws that provide for far stiffer sentences than state law.
In his two-page letter, Hargress writes: "I know that a lot of you guys out there are probably saying I got weak or that I'm stupid or scared. I don't mind, because I've been there. Yes, I drove the flashy cars, I wore the big gold chains and I had the expensive clothes, not to mention all the girls I desired. And I found out the hard way that it wasn't even worth it. Not only did I destroy my life, but I also destroyed the lives of everyone around me.
" . . . The reason I say this to you young Crips members, who think it's cool to sell cocaine, is because people are hurt by drugs. And it took this experience for me to realize this. Also, the penalties are so harsh for committing these crimes, just one of my charges alone carries up to forty years.
"And I know that there are people out there wondering if I regret what I did? Or if I feel any remorse? Yes, I do! I ask myself every day, was selling cocaine in Seattle worth the consequences I now face? And I would like the Crips of L.A. to sit back and ask yourselves, before you decide to come to Seattle, or any other city to sell cocaine, are all of those material things you desire worth the consequences when you get caught? Because, eventually you will be caught!"
Hargress was arrested in Oklahoma City in April while carrying a pound of cocaine, a loaded handgun and $35,000 in cash. In addition to the gun charge, he pleaded guilty to distributing cocaine within 1,000 feet of a schoolyard in Seattle.
Authorities say Hargress was the ringleader of a group of nine Nine-Deuce Hoover Crips and Kitchen Crips who, since mid-1987, had set up three rock houses in Seattle and several more in Oklahoma City. Eight of his compatriots have either pleaded guilty or have been convicted after trial on drug-trafficking offenses.
Hargress, who has previously been convicted of robbery, firearms and drug charges in Los Angeles, was also responsible for the shooting of a 16-year-old Seattle high school student who was wearing a red jacket, authorities say.
In a court affidavit, a federal drug agent said Hargress fired the bullet because he "hates red because it is a symbol of the rival 'Bloods' gangs in Los Angeles."
Hargress was never formally charged in the shooting, apparently because the victim, who survived, disappeared.