The accused head of New Haven’s Tre Bloods gang appeared in federal court to proclaim his innocence, as a prosecutor raised his affiliation with a “Krew” linked to a prominent rapper.
That happened at a hearing in U.S. District Court Wednesday, one day after the feds completed the largest-ever criminal sweep in Connecticut’s history. The investigation—called Operation Bloodline—targeted New Haven’s Tre Bloods gang. Centered in the Dwight-Kensington neighborhood, the Bloods are responsible for much of New Haven’s crack dealing and tit-for-tat deadly street violence, according to the feds.
Jameel “Biggs” Wilkes was one of 105 people indicted in the operation. He was one of 90 people agents arrested in two raids over the past week. (Read about that here.)
When Wilkes appeared before Magistrate Joan G. Margolis at a pre-trial detention Wednesday, prosecutors called him the leader of the New Haven Tre Bloods. They also said he runs a sub-group called the “Klean Up Krew” that operates as a front for the gang. “Klean Up” is street jargon for shooting somebody.
Family members present at the hearing insisted that the Krew is simply a music group, and that “Biggs” has nothing to do with the Bloods. Biggs and the Klean Up Crew are featured in a 2010 video filmed in Dwight-Kensington by NYC rapper French Montana.
Wilkes’ hearing took place in Room 5 of the Church Street federal courthouse. U.S. Assistant Attorneys Dave Vatti and Marc Silverman were the prosecutors in the case. Robert G. Golger served as Wilkes’ attorney.
The “Big Homie”
The prosecutors asked that Wilkes, who’s being held without bond, remain in jail for the duration of his trial. They argued that Wilke’s release posed “risk of flight” and “danger to the community.”
“Mr. Wilkes,” argued Vatti, “was what is known as the ‘Big Homie’ of the Tre Bloods, which means that he was the highest-ranking gang member in New Haven.”
Vatti went on to say that Wilkes was also a member of a group known as the “Klean Up Krew,” which he linked to the Bloods. He reported that undercover agents had made “controlled purchases” of crack from Wilkes during the year-long Operation Bloodline investigation. He said that the feds had tapped Wilkes’ phone for 90 days, and that some of the information obtained from the wiretap was cause for concern.
“For example, your honor,” said Vatti, “a man who had been assaulted texted Mr. Wilkes. I’m going to read you the text ...”
“Please, your honor, I must object,” interrupted Golger. “There are members of the media here.”
Golger requested a stipulation without prejudice—which means that his client wikk be held without bond, but also gives the defense the opportunity to request another hearing to fight for his release once more information about the case has been released.
Golger later explained the reasons for his request. He said that at this stage the defense is not given access to the prosecutor’s evidence before hearing it in court, which places the defendant at a disadvantage. For example, he said he couldn’t prepare an effective response to the prosecutor’s text-message evidence without having seen it beforehand.
“You’re better off waiting until you can answer their allegations,” he said.
Margolis granted the stipulation, and the court went into recess. Wilkes, a large man wearing a green prison jumpsuit, turned to face his family with a look of incredulity on his face.
“The highest-ranking member!” he said, shaking his head.
After the recess began the arraignment portion of the hearing. Wilkes pleaded not guilty to all charges, which include conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine; possession with intent to distribute; and actual distribution. He faces between 10 years and life in jail.
He was subsequently taken back to jail in handcuffs.
Outside the courtroom stood four young women who identified themselves as Wilkes’ sisters. They were visibly upset and declined to give their names.
““He’s not the man they depict him to be,” one of them said, tears in her eyes. “He’s a kind, loving man who helps everyone. He’s not Blood. He can go anywhere in the city and people love him.”
Addicted To Money
The sisters went on to claim that the Klean Up Krew has nothing to do with the Bloods.
“It’s a music group!” one of them exclaimed. “It’s something he started to stop the violence, to get the kids off the streets. There are CDs being sold—you can even find videos in YouTube!”
Click on the play arrow to watch one of those music videos. It was released by noted NYC rapper French Montana, who shot it in New Haven, where he has been a frequent visitor for several years. Wilkes and many other young men appear with Montana throughout the video in “Klean Up Krew” T-shirts. Montana shot it in the Dwight-Kensington neighborhood, the heart of the Tre Bloods’ territory.
The title of the song in the video: “Addicted To Money.”
While introducing Montana at the start of the video, Wilkes welcomes people to “New Haven, Connecticut. You come out here, you won’t leave, nigga.” He appears later in the video alongside the rapper.
“Operation Bloodline” investigators have focused on that video and the alleged Bloods’ affiliation with Montana since early in the probe.
“Now you’re in prison. Wonderful job :D,” one commenter wrote on the 2010 video’s YouTube page Wednesday.
“They associate it with the Bloods,” said another family member. “But just ‘cause you wear red and black doesn’t mean you’re Blood.”
“And that shit about how he’s the highest-ranking member!” said a third. “You know why they call him Biggs? ‘Cause he’s overweight.”
The sisters did not address the government’s allegations of controlled purchases of crack or the information gathered through the phone tap.
“Music is freedom of speech,” said the first. “People go through a lot of things—and this is the way they express themselves. The Tre [Dwight-Kensington neighborhood] is the most impoverished part of New Haven. So what you expect these kids to do? Biggs was giving them a way out.”